What if you could one day speak into your hands and control every device in your room?
Researchers at the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) have recently unveiled an interesting new invention: a skin-attachable microphone the size of a quarter of a fingernail.
Despite being minuscule (the device is reportedly only a few hundred micrometers thick), this new microphone is said to be more sensitive than human ears, having the uncanny ability to pick up both loud and quiet sounds.
Voice control is one of the many tenets of modern technology. Now, it seems like almost every appliance is a smart device equipped with voice control software. These smart appliances allow us to command our entire homes verbally, from the washing machine to the dish dryer and rice cooker.
The researchers, Professor Kilwon Cho and Dr. Siyoung Lee of the Department of Chemical Engineering, alongside Professor Wonkyu Moon and Dr. Junsoo Kim of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, aim to enhance the way we use voice control devices by developing a minuscule microphone that could be discreetly placed onto any body part.
This wearable microphone is tiny, flexible, and can be attached to human skin. Not only that, but the device is said to be able to pick up sounds that are well outside our range of hearing.
According to the paper, this acoustic sensor can detect sounds that are so loud they can cause damage to human ears. On the other hand, it can also hear frequencies that are too low for humans to hear.
Once fully developed, this type of technology could change the way we navigate life and technology as we know it. Potential applications range from voice control using different smart devices, to enhanced studio recordings.
The microphone was created using polymer materials for MEMS or microelectromechanical systems.
MEMS-based microphones aren’t anything new—Bluetooth devices and cellular phones use the same structure. However, the researchers noted that these diaphragms are often thin, brittle, and rigid, making them difficult to bend. This also limits their sound detection capabilities.
To bypass this problem, the researchers at POSTECH decided to design their MEMS-based microphone with flexible materials. Using polymer rather than silicone, the structure is flexible and can be manipulated into different shapes.
This also makes the new microphone a lot more sensitive to sound than regular smartphone mics. The study even mentions that the microphone has a wider auditory field than human ears.
Additionally, it can pick up sounds that are normally distorted and damaging to human ears, such as noises above 85 decibels.
Combined with skin-attachable sensors, the microphone could make way for auditory electronic skin that can be used alongside voice recognition devices.
The device has already been tested with Google Assistant with positive results; the user was able to use the wearable acoustic sensor to “search, translate, and control” different devices with ease.
This research was published in Advanced Materials, a weekly scientific peer-reviewed journal on materials science.