Cat-like ‘hearing’ for the augmented human using the smallest scale yet.

Human augmentation is the attempt to temporarily or permanently enhance the human body through natural or artificial means.  More commonly cybernetics and/or enabling human-computer interfaces are used to improve the body and mind.  However, human augmentation is also being supplemented by evolving basic technologies combining sensors, wearable computing, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence.  Now, a study from researchers at Case Western Reserve University develops a cat-like ‘hearing’ device 10,000,000,000,000 times smaller than the human eardrum.  The team states their advances will likely contribute to making the next generation of low-power communication and sensory devices smaller, possessing greater detection and tuning ranges.  The opensource study is published in the journal Science Advances.

Previous studies show sensing and communication are key to a connected world.  In recent decades, humanity has been connecting with highly miniaturized devices and systems.  However, there are key challenges with miniaturization, such as achieving a broader dynamic range of detection, for small signals, such as sound, vibration, and radio waves.  It is therefore highly desirable to develop transducers with the ability to handle signals without losing or compromising information.  The current study moves towards these transducers by demonstrating the capability of their key components, namely, the atomic layer drumheads or resonators-at the smallest scale yet.

The current study is developing atomically thin drumheads able to receive and transmit signals across a radio frequency range far greater than that of the human ear.  The vibrating nanoscale drumheads are made of atomic layers of semiconductor crystals with diameters measuring one micron.  They are constructed by exfoliating individual atomic layers from the bulk semiconductor crystal and using a combination of nanofabrication and micromanipulation techniques to suspend the atomic layers over micro-cavities pre-defined on a silicon wafer, and then making electrical contacts to the devices.

The group states their drumhead is tens of trillions times smaller in volume and 100,000 times thinner than the human eardrum.  They go on to add their work represents the highest reported dynamic range for vibrating transducers of their type.  They conclude to date, this range had only been attained by much larger transducers operating at much lower frequencies-like those seen in the human eardrum.

The team surmises they have demonstrated a successful prototype for a nanoscale cybernetic sensory device with the potential to afford humans cat-like hearing.  For the future, the researchers state their unique combination of minute device volume, very wide frequency tunability, and broad DR has important implications for enabling novel sensing and signal processing functions in these atomically thin nanostructures.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

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