Scientists give robots super-hearing using ear taken from dead locust

A huge step in bridging the gap between robots and living creatures has been taken by scientists at Tel Aviv University.

The researchers connected an ear taken from a dead locust to a robot and successfully used sound to control the new bionic system.

Dr Ben M Maoz explained that evolution is more economical than technology: "It should be understood that biological systems expend negligible energy compared to electronic systems.

"They are miniature, and therefore also extremely economical and efficient. For the sake of comparison, a laptop consumes about 100 watts per hour, while the human brain consumes about 20 watts a day."

He said that many animals have "superpowers" that technology can’t duplicate.

"Some animals have amazing abilities to detect explosives or drugs," he told Eureka Alert.

"The creation of a robot with a biological nose could help us preserve human life and identify criminals in a way that is not possible today.

"Some animals know how to detect diseases, others can sense earthquakes. The sky’s the limit."

Dr Maoz said his team decided that his team had decided that hearing was the most easily-measurable sense to start with.

He added: "We chose the sense of hearing because it can be easily compared to existing technologies, in contrast to the sense of smell, for example, where the challenge is much greater.

"Our task was to replace the robot's electronic microphone with a dead insect's ear, use the ear's ability to detect the electrical signals from the environment, in this case, vibrations in the air, and, using a special chip, convert the insect input to that of the robot."

After the locust’s ear was fitted to the robot, it was able to follow simple commands: when the researchers clapped once, the locust's ear heard the sound and the robot moved forward; when the researchers clapped twice, the robot moved backwards.

While it’s a small step in itself, the Tel Aviv University research points the way towards even more sophisticated fusions between biological and cybernetic systems in future.

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