Fly on a treadmill demonstrates super directional hearing

Super fly lends an ear to bio-inspired hearing aids and robotic listening devices, Cornell neuroscientists report

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Cornell University neuroscientists knew they had one amazing fly on their hands when they tested Ormia ochracea , a tiny insect parasite with such acute directional hearing that it has inspired a new generation of hearing aids and nanoscale listening devices.

But it wasn't until the scientists ran an experiment on a fly-sized treadmill that they fully appreciated Ormia's talent for sound localization: Not only can the fly match the species thought to have the best directional hearing --Homo sapiens -- but it does so with a fraction of the head space, a boon to miniaturization of man-made devices, Andrew C. Mason, Michael L. Oshinsky and Ron R. Hoy report in the April 5, 2001, issue ofNature.

"We thought humans were the champions at sound localization, thanks to our highly evolved auditory apparatus and the fact that our ears are up to six inches apart, a separation that allows for ample localization cues. Ormia's ears are a minuscule half millimeter apart, but it has evolved a system for localizing sounds very different from any other animal. These latest findings encourage us to continue development of a very small and inexpensive directional hearing aid," says Hoy, a professor of neurobiology and behavior who has studied the parasitic fly for 10 years.

Hoy is a scientific consultant to engineers trying to make a directional hearing aid that would be smaller, simpler and cost thousands of dollars less than currently available devices. Nanoscale listening devices based on the Ormia ear are under development at several industrial and university laboratories, including one at Cornell. Mason was a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell at the time of the fly studies and now is on the faculty of the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Oshinsky was a Cornell gra

Contact: Roger Segelken
Cornell University News Service

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