They don't really want to put a bug in your ear, just help you hear like one. Researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, say insects' sophisticated way of processing sound could help refine hearing aids.
They're taking inspiration from the tiny creatures to figure out how to fine-tune hearing aids without adding extra weight. In particular, they're trying to improve on decades-old microphone technology and allow users to have a better sense of where sound is coming from.
With current hearing aid microphones, users can tell whether a sound is coming from in front of or behind them, but they often struggle with pinpointing sounds coming from other directions, such as above and below.
The research team will use 3-D printing techniques to help answer questions about what happens to sound when it travels—for instance, how we distinguish between a loud sound that's muffled because it's coming from far away, like a train in the distance, and a quiet sound, like whispering, that's emanating from just a short distance away.
Other researchers have already discovered that insects' tiny hearing organs process sound similarly to humans—though on a much smaller scale. Crickets, grasshoppers and similar insects have hearing structures on their front legs, barely resembling mammal ears, but they're still able to distinguish between various frequencies and directions. Bug-eared, anyone?