WASHINGTON D.C., June 22, 2014 Even within a phylum so full of mean little creatures, the yellow-colored Ormia ochracea fly is distinguished among other arthropods for its cruelty -- at least to crickets. Native to the southeastern U.S. states and Central America, the fly is a most predatory sort of parasite. It swoops onto the back of a singing male cricket, deposits a smear of larvae, and leaves its wicked brood to invade, kill and consume the cricket from inside out.
None of this would be possible without the fly's ability to find a cricket -- the cornerstone of its parasitic lifestyle. The fly can pinpoint the location of a chirping cricket with remarkable accuracy because of its freakishly acute hearing, which relies upon a sophisticated sound processing mechanism that really sets it apart from all other known insects.
Now a team of researchers at the University of Texas Austin has developed a tiny prototype device that mimics the parasitic fly's hearing mechanism, which may be useful for a new generation of hypersensitive hearing aids. Described in the journal Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing, the 2-millimeter-wide device uses piezoelectric materials, which turn mechanical strain into electric signals. The use of these materials means that the device requires very little power.
"Synthesizing the special mechanism with piezoelectric readout is a big step forward towards commercialization of the technology," said Neal Hall, an assistant professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT Austin. "Minimizing power consumption is always an important consideration in hearing-aid device technology.
There are military and defense applications as well, and Hall's work was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In dark environments, for instance, where visual cues are not available, localizing events using sound may be critical.
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|Contact: Jason Socrates Bardi|
American Institute of Physics