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Drawing Inspiration From Nature to Build a Better Radio

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RF cochlea radio chip

The RF cochlea and antenna mimic the structure and function of the biological cochlea.

Credit: MIT / Donna Coveney

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have developed a fast, ultra-broadband, low-power radio chip for use in wireless devices. MIT professor Rahul Sarpeshkar and graduate student Soumyajit Mandal designed the radio frequency (RF) cochlea chip, which was modeled on the inner ear of humans, or cochlea.

Sarpeshkar says the cochlea excels at quickly understanding what is occurring 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," he says. The cochlea uses fluid mechanics, piezoelectrics, and neural signal processing to convert sounds waves into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. When sound waves enter the cochlea they create mechanical waves in the cochlear membrane and the fluid in the inner ear, activating hair cells that cause electrical signals to be sent to the brain.

The RF cochlea chip works as an analog spectrum analyzer that detects the composition of any electromagnetic waves within its perception range. Electromagnetic waves travel through electronic inductors and capacitors, the equivalent of the biological cochlea's fluid and membrane, and electronic transistors act as the cochlea's hair cells. The researchers say the analog RF cochlea chip is faster than any other RF spectrum analyzer, and consumes about 100 times less power than would be required for direct digitization of the entire bandwidth, making it useful as a component of a cognitive radio capable of receive a variety of frequencies.

From MIT News
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