Indian-origin researchers’ human ear-mimicking chip may provide a better radio

June 4th, 2009 - 3:20 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 4 (ANI): A team of Indian-origin researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have modelled a fast, ultra-broadband, low-power radio chip on the human inner ear.

Rahul Sarpeshkar, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and his graduate student Soumyajit Mandal say that their device may enable wireless devices capable of receiving cell phone, Internet, radio and television signals.

They designed the chip to mimic the inner ear, or cochlea.

According to them, the chip is faster than any human-designed radio-frequency spectrum analyzer and also operates at much lower power.

“The cochlea quickly gets the big picture of what’s going on in the sound spectrum. The more I started to look at the ear, the more I realized it’s like a super radio with 3,500 parallel channels,” said Sarpeshkar.

The researchers have dubbed the new chip the “radio frequency (RF) cochlea”.

Describing it in the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits, they revealed that they had also filed for a patent to incorporate the RF cochlea in a universal or software radio architecture that is designed to efficiently process a broad spectrum of signals including cellular phone, wireless Internet, FM, and other signals.

The RF cochlea mimics the structure and function of the biological cochlea, which uses fluid mechanics, piezoelectrics and neural signal processing to convert sound waves into electrical signals that are sent to the brain.

Sarpeshkar said that his team’s work showed what could happen when researchers took inspiration from fields outside their own.

“Somebody who works in radio would never think of this, and somebody who works in hearing would never think of it, but when you put the two together, each one provides insight into the other,” he said.

This is not the first time Sarpeshkar has drawn on biology for inspiration in designing electronic devices, for he and his colleagues have also developed an analog speech-synthesis chip inspired by the human vocal tract and a novel analysis-by-synthesis technique based on the vocal tract.

The chip’s potential for robust speech recognition in noise, and its potential for voice identification, have several applications in portable devices and security applications.

Sarpeshkar feels that engineers can learn a great deal from studying biological systems that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to perform sensory, and motor tasks very efficiently in noisy environments while using very little power.

“Humans have a long way to go before their architectures will successfully compete with those in nature, especially in situations where ultra-energy-efficient or ultra-low-power operation are paramount,” he said.

Nevertheless, he added: “We can mine the intellectual resources of nature to create devices useful to humans, just as we have mined her physical resources in the past.”

A research article on this work appears in MIT Tech Talk. (ANI)

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