Electric circuit mimics barn owl brain to locate sounds

A group of researchers is trying to imitate, through electrical circuits, the brain circuits of the barn owl, one of the most known species of owl, as well as one of the most widespread, also called common barn owl to distinguish it from other members of its family.

According to a team of engineers at Pennsylvania State University, these birds are characterized by a particular ability to use sound to locate prey, a technique that could be used for electronic devices built for navigation in general and for the identification of the origin of a sound in particular. In particular, researchers are analyzing a particular model of localization called Jeffress model.

The latter, developed by Lloyd Jeffress in 1948, explains just how acoustic systems in nature are able to record and analyze even the smallest differences in the time of arrival of sound to the ears of animals in order to identify the precise location that generates the same sound. As Sarbashis Das, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and one of the authors of the study, explains, “Owls understand which direction the sound is coming from one to two degrees. Humans are not that precise. Owls use this skill mainly because they hunt at night and their eyesight isn’t that good.”

The electrical circuit created by Das and his team of engineers can slow down the input signal and can determine the point of origin of the sound, just as barnacles do: “In fact, nature has done much of the work for us. All we have to do now is adapt these neurobiological architectures for our semiconductor devices,” explains Das himself.