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Can You Hear Me Now?

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Hang up the phone and listen up! Cell phone usage in the U.S. has increased from 34 million to 203 million in the last decade, but it's a love-hate relationship. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) survey ranked cell phones as the one invention people hate the most, but can't live without. It even beat out the alarm clock and TV. One of the biggest complaints: dropped calls. Now, a new super chip may help keep you connected.

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It can happen at the worst moment. When a signal is lost, we are lost.

"It is very frustrating," cell phone user Soumuagat Maneal told Ivanhoe.

But science and a little bit of human anatomy could help keep us connected. Through a mathematical equation engineers are now able to mimic the way the ear picks up sound.

"The way the human ear works, is it's very broadband," Rahul Sarpeshkar, an electrical engineer at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., explained. "It can listen to all these frequencies at once."

The human ear is like a super radio. As sound waves enter the ear, they create a mechanical wave in the cochlea, the hearing organ, activating hair cells and sending electrical signals to the brain. The sound wave travels in a circular motion slowing down as it makes it ways through the ear. The slower speed allows the human ear to pick up lower frequencies.

This tiny chip takes in sounds the same way. An electronic transmitter acts like the hair cells in the cochlea converting sound waves into electrical signals. Unlike traditional technology, which works off of one frequency, this chip can take in hundreds of frequencies.

"So if you were in a cluttered environment and things were breaking up, it would suddenly switch frequency and realize things are breaking up and would switch to a different frequency," Sarpeshkar explained.

By mimicking the human organ, the radiofrequency cochlea is able to process signals from cell phones, wireless Internet and FM radio, keeping you out of the "dead zone," and keeping us connected.

The MIT researchers have filed for a patent to incorporate the RF cochlea into a radio designed to process signals from cell phones, wireless Internet, FM radio and TV. They hope the chip will soon function as a universal wireless device for all signals required by mobile devices.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Rahul Sarpeshkar
(617) 258-6599
rahuls@mit.edu


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Prior Reports
A joint production of Ivanhoe Broadcast News and the American Institute of Physics.
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