There is interest in developing devices that mimic the sound transduction of the cochlear hair cells. Current artificial hair cell (AHC) designs have focused on passive transduction of sound into electrical signals. However, measurements inside living cochleae have revealed that a nonlinear amplification is at work in mammalian hearing. This amplification lowers the threshold for sound detection allowing mammals to hear faint sounds. The nonlinearity results in an amplitude compression whereby a large range of sound pressure levels produces a smaller range of displacements. This compressive nonlinearity gives the ear a large dynamic range. This work seeks to develop and analyze active artificial hair cells which employ a bio-inspired amplification to improve performance. This paper examines two artificial hair cell designs. The first is an 18.5 in long aluminum cantilever beam which is excited and controlled using piezoelectric actuators along the length of the beam. The second design is a one inch piezoelectric bimorph beam subject to a base excitation. In both cases a nonlinear feedback control law is implemented which reduces the beam’s linear viscous damping and introduces a cubic damping term. Model and experimental results show the control law amplified the response of the artificial hair cell to low excitation levels near the resonance frequency. Increasing input levels produced a compressive nonlinearity at resonance similar to that observed in measurements from mammalian cochleae. This work could lead to the development of new bio-inspired sensors with a lower threshold of detection, improved frequency sensitivity, and larger dynamic range.

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