When looking for novel, simple, and energy-efficient solutions to engineering problems, nature has proved to be an incredibly valuable source of inspiration. The development of acoustic sensors has been a prolific field for bioinspired solutions. With a diverse array of evolutionary approaches to the problem of hearing at small scales (some widely different to the traditional concept of "ear"), insects in particular have served as a starting point for several designs. From locusts to moths, through crickets and mosquitoes among many others, the mechanisms found in nature to deal with small-scale acoustic detection and the engineering solutions they have inspired are reviewed. The present article is comprised of three main sections corresponding to the principal problems faced by insects, namely frequency discrimination, which is addressed by tonotopy, whether performed by a specific organ or directly on the tympana; directionality, with solutions including diverse adaptations to tympanal structure; and detection of weak signals, through what is known as active hearing. The three aforementioned problems concern tiny animals as much as human-manufactured microphones and have therefore been widely investigated. Even though bioinspired systems may not always provide perfect performance, they are sure to give us solutions with clever use of resources and minimal post-processing, being serious contenders for the best alternative depending on the requisites of the problem.
- insect ears
- active hearing