MIT's Low-Power Radio Chip Apes Human Ear - InformationWeek
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6/3/2009
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MIT's Low-Power Radio Chip Apes Human Ear

Now hear this: MIT engineers have built a radio chip modeled after one of nature's most intricate designs: the human inner ear.

Now hear this: MIT engineers have built a radio chip modeled after one of nature's most intricate designs: the human inner ear.The fast, ultra-broadband, low-power radio chip mimics the human cochlea, is faster than any human-designed radio-frequency spectrum analyzer, and operates at much lower power. It could one day enable wireless devices capable of receiving cell phone, Internet, radio and TV signals.

"Biology inspires better engineering," said Rahul Sarpeshkar, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science. "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 said in a statement.

Sarpeshkar, and his graduate student, Soumyajit Mandal, have filed for a patent to incorporate what they've dubbed 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.

Embedded on a silicon chip measuring 1.5 mm by 3 mm, the RF cochlea works as an analog spectrum analyzer, detecting the composition of any electromagnetic waves within its perception range. It consumes about 100 times less power than what would be required for direct digitization of the entire bandwidth. That makes it desirable as a component of a universal or "cognitive" radio, the engineers say, which could receive a broad range of frequencies and select which ones to attend to.

Sarpeshkar has developed another biologically inspired electronic device: an analog speech-synthesis chip inspired by the human vocal tract. That chip's potential for speech recognition in noisy environments and for voice ID make it desirable for security applications.

In the video below, Sarpeshkar describes his multi-disciplinary approach to work and how his engineering and scientific selves fuel his practicality and curiosity:

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