Ron Miles, a distinguished professor of mechanical engineering at Binghamton University, seeks to turn theory into practical solutions, particularly in the area of biomimetics–applying methods and systems found in nature to engineering and technology.
His research interests include the development of miniature directional microphones, based on the hearing of a tiny fly. This micro-machined differential microphone uses an optical means to convert the sound-induced motion of a diaphragm into an electronic signal. Because it can be manufactured with high sensitivity and low noise, this lightweight microphone design offers a way to improve hearing aids.
Miles’ invention overcomes the performance limitations of existing microphones used in cell phones and hearing aids by using a diaphragm that prevents unwanted sounds from being detected. It also achieves higher signal to noise ratios, has a much lower noise floor, relatively low power consumption and is lightweight.
“Our aim is to help hearing aid users understand speech when they are in noisy environments,” Miles says. “We hope to enable significant advances in microphone technology that can reduce the influence of unwanted sounds in hearing aids. This can be accomplished by applying principles we’ve learned from studying tiny fly ears.”
Miles’ work with miniature microphones is one of five diverse proposals that were selected in June 2011 to receive a total of $250,000 in funding for the first round of the Technology Accelerator Fund (TAF) awards. TAF is a program launched by SUNY and the Research Foundation in April to identify and support opportunities where strategic investments will make a significant impact on moving products and services to the marketplace.