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Soft and Small: Acoustic Transducers Inspired by Nature

Final Report Summary - SASATIN (Soft and Small: Acoustic Transducers Inspired by Nature)

The SASATIN project investigated how insect hearing systems work, and then used that biological research to inspire the development of new acoustic systems. One of the project’s primary aims was to consider how insect ears work as soft, three dimensional (3D), sensory structures. To do this, the latest analysis tools were used. This included using an x-ray system to create very high resolution 3D images and models of the insect ears. To understand how the ears respond to sound the project used a laser vibrometer system that measured the motion of the ear structures in 3D down to picometre levels. The project developed processes to take this information and use it to create 3D computer simulations of the insect ears to analyse how they work. The project investigated several different insect ears, including crickets, locusts, mosquitoes and moths. The research included several new discoveries relating to insect ear structures and operation, and insect acoustic behaviour.

At the same time, the project’s researchers used the new biological knowledge as inspiration to develop a variety of new acoustic systems. This work concentrated on the concept that any engineered acoustic system could be made in 3D like the ears that inspired it, and could also move in 3D. The project’s goal here was to move away from existing engineered acoustic systems like microphone membranes that are designed to be flat and easily reproducible using existing technology. The SASATIN project used information from the biology research to produce 3D acoustic systems. That allowed interesting functions to be built into the engineered structures, reducing the need for electronics and signal processing. The project had to develop methods to produce useful 3D acoustic structures, and used complex computer simulations to create and test new ideas for acoustic systems. This led to a variety of developments based on 3D printing, with the research supported by using the same 3D x-ray system and 3D laser motion system as in the biology project work to analyse the results. At the end of the project it was possible to 3D print a complete, working, acoustic microphone, allowing the integration of complex shapes into the microphone design.