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Innovative biomechanics for directional hearing in small flies
Robert, D. (2001). Innovative biomechanics for directional hearing in small flies. Biol. Bull. 200: 190-194
In: Biological Bulletin. Marine Biological Laboratory: Lancaster. ISSN 0006-3185, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Robert, D.

    In humans and animals alike, the localization of sound constitutes a fundamental processing task of the auditory system. Directional hearing relies on acoustic cues such as the interaural amplitude and time differences and also, sometimes, the signal spectral composition. In small animals, such as insects, the auditory receptors are forcibly set close together, a design constraint imposing very short interaural distances. Due to the physics of sound propagation, the close proximity of the sound receivers results in vanishingly small amplitude and time cues. Yet, because of their directionality, small auditory systems embed original and innovative solutions that can be of inspirational value to some acute problems of technological miniaturization. Such ears are found in a parasitoid fly that acoustically locates its singing cricket host. Anatomically rather unconventional, the fly’s auditory system is endowed with a directional sensitivity that is based on the mechanical coupling between its two hemilateral tympanal membranes. The functional principle permitting this directionality may be of particular relevance for technological applications necessitating sensors that are low cost, low weight, and low energy. Based on silicon-etching technology, early prototypes of sub-millimeter acoustic sensors provide evidence for directional mechanical responses. Further developments hold the promise of applications in hearing aid technology, vibration sensors, and miniature video-acoustic surveillance systems.

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