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MIT Connects to Biological Power Supply in Your Inner Ear

By - Source: MIT | B 21 comments
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There is an untapped power source in your inner ear.

Researchers at MIT have, for the very first time, successfully accessed a biological power source that has been known to exist for several decades. That source is located in the inner ear's cochlea where it provides sufficient current to power an electrochemical signal that originates in the vibration of the eardrum. That mechanical force is converted to a signal that is sent to and processed by our brain.

The cochlea serves as a natural battery chamber filled with ions. There have been ideas to tap this "battery", but scientists did not have a feasible concept to actually do so previously.

"In the past, people have thought that the space where the high potential is located is inaccessible for implantable devices, because potentially it’s very dangerous if you encroach on it," said Konstantina Stankovic, an otologic surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI). "We have known for 60 years that this battery exists and that it’s really important for normal hearing, but nobody has attempted to use this battery to power useful electronics."

In experiments, Stankovic and her colleagues tested electrodes in guinea pigs’ ears and attached low-power electronic devices to those electrodes. The researcher said that "the guinea pigs responded normally to hearing tests, and the devices were able to wirelessly transmit data about the chemical conditions of the ear to an external receiver."

Key to success was the development of extreme low-power circuits, MIT said. the voltage provided by the cochlea is "very low" and, in order not to impact general hearing, only a fraction of that power can be used for circuits.

Future applications of the technology may include cochlear implants, diagnostics and implantable hearing aids.

There was no information when commercial devices could be ready to take advantage of the discovery.

 

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Top Comments
  • 11 Hide
    merikafyeah , November 11, 2012 6:37 PM
    I don't think it'll ever be wifi capable. The amount of energy needed to create a signal of useful strength may not be large electronically, but biologically it'd be like setting off a nuke inside your ear.
  • 10 Hide
    merikafyeah , November 11, 2012 6:35 PM
    This is so frikkin cool.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    A Bad Day , November 11, 2012 6:33 PM
    One question:

    If the implants are ever Wi-Fi capable, what would be done to prevent malicious attacks like in the "H+: The Digital Series"?
  • Display all 21 comments.
  • 10 Hide
    merikafyeah , November 11, 2012 6:35 PM
    This is so frikkin cool.
  • 11 Hide
    merikafyeah , November 11, 2012 6:37 PM
    I don't think it'll ever be wifi capable. The amount of energy needed to create a signal of useful strength may not be large electronically, but biologically it'd be like setting off a nuke inside your ear.
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , November 11, 2012 8:33 PM
    Would be perfect for powering hearing aid.
  • 0 Hide
    fuzg13z , November 11, 2012 8:34 PM
    merikafyeahI don't think it'll ever be wifi capable. The amount of energy needed to create a signal of useful strength may not be large electronically, but biologically it'd be like setting off a nuke inside your ear.

    Konstantina Stankovic"the guinea pigs responded normally to hearing tests, and the devices were able to wirelessly transmit data about the chemical conditions of the ear to an external receiver."
    Maybe it's not too far off after all, you could use an external repeater to boost the signal..
  • 0 Hide
    esrever , November 11, 2012 9:00 PM
    wonder how hard is it to make an artificial version of this and how efficient it would be to power things. Seems like a very eco friendly way to replace batteries if its possible.
  • 2 Hide
    A Bad Day , November 12, 2012 12:34 AM
    esreverwonder how hard is it to make an artificial version of this and how efficient it would be to power things. Seems like a very eco friendly way to replace batteries if its possible.


    Yeah, I would rather use a small portable flexible solar panel and/or a piezoelectric shoe to recharge my phone than to have surgery in my ears. Thank you very much.
  • 0 Hide
    unempit , November 12, 2012 12:48 AM
    Hmmm. I wonder if this knowledge can allow the repair or replacement of the cochlea's power generating ability to restore hearing. Maybe the "battery" is wearing out as we get older...good thing I'm not a doctor.
  • 1 Hide
    A Bad Day , November 12, 2012 1:18 AM
    Usually hearing loss not caused by disease, injury or genetic disorder have damages to microscopic hair that pick up the vibration in the cochlea's fluid. Broken sensory hair results in weaker reception of sound, and those kind of hair never grows back.
  • 2 Hide
    GoldenI , November 12, 2012 1:31 AM
    Very fascinating. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    acadia11 , November 12, 2012 2:37 AM
    So when will I have to choose between the red or blue pill?
  • 1 Hide
    devBunny , November 12, 2012 6:20 AM
    What's next, inserting a dynamo into the jugular vein?
  • 1 Hide
    devBunny , November 12, 2012 6:23 AM
    Quote:
    Key to success was the development of extreme low-power circuits, MIT said. the voltage provided by the cochlea is "very low" and, in order not to impact general hearing, only a fraction of that power can be used for circuits.


    brickmanWould be perfect for powering hearing aid.


    Ya think?

    Quote:
    The researcher said that "the guinea pigs responded normally to hearing tests


    They did, did they? And what did the the guinea pigs say about their subjective experience. More importantly, what would they say when the power suck has been going on for a few years? Personally, I'll wait for the twenty year human trial to conclude.
  • -1 Hide
    doive1231 , November 12, 2012 6:53 AM
    Nothing wrong with current small hearing aids. Why don't they leave the animals alone.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , November 12, 2012 7:52 AM
    Personally I think a hearing aid battery is more user friendly than dangling a guinea pig from my ear...... :
  • 0 Hide
    cats_Paw , November 12, 2012 12:57 PM
    Welcome to the Matrix
  • 1 Hide
    justified , November 12, 2012 2:52 PM
    Did anyone ask the guinea pig if it was experiencing vertigo? If they are messing truly with the inner ear...no thanks. Anyone who has ever had inner ear issues/vertigo, will stay far away from this. Besides, I don't understand how this could even access the inner ear without having major issues.
  • 0 Hide
    bigdog44 , November 12, 2012 4:25 PM
    Why not tap the electrochemical potential in human muscle? You could use the energy of an atrophied muscle to power a spider silk muscle system, thereby increasing that muscles strength.
  • 0 Hide
    tmshdw , November 12, 2012 6:52 PM
    The road to borg-dom is paved with little innovations like this. And I'm in line with the rest to be hooked up. We know not what we do....
  • 0 Hide
    Darkk , November 12, 2012 10:55 PM
    Matrix anybody?
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