Where most flies use their large, compound eyes to track food and escape swatters, Ormia ochracea, a small parasitic fly, relies on its exquisite hearing abilities. Equipped with two extremely sensitive ears on the front of its thorax, the female fly is able to accurately pinpoint its cricket host by the sound of its singing from up to several meters away. The two tympanal membranes in the fly's ears are joined together by the presternum, a tiny skeletal structure, which magnifies the sound's amplitude and enables the fly to tell with pinpoint accuracy which direction it's coming from.
Inspired by the fly's remarkable capabilities, Ron Miles, an engineer at Binghamton University, built a set of hearing aids that employ miniature directional microphones to imitate the fly's hypersensitive ears. Unlike most hearing aids, which fail to cut through the background noise, Miles' devices allow a user to home in on specific sounds and conversations by copying the presternum's design. Buoyed by funding from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), Miles hopes to bring this technology to fruition in a new generation of advanced hearing aids.