Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Bionic Ear

PostedJanuary 12, 2014

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Anchor Lead: 3-D printers are becoming more common, but usually produce simple solid objects. Now, though, engineers are printing out human ears -- that may hear better than the real thing.

Randy Atkins: Tissue engineers have already grown structures that look like ears, for potential use in reconstructive surgery. But Michael McAlpine, of Princeton University, is using 3-D printing technology, adapted for cells and circuits, to build ears that actually work.

Michael McAlpine: We fed in biology and electronics and other materials into the printer so that it could print this kind of functional ear which is made out of cartilage but has electronics interwoven into it.

Randy Atkins: McAlpine says printing a whole ear only takes about 4-hours and people might one day even consider replacing normal ears with bionic versions because they’ll not only pick up sound waves, but…

Michael McAlpine: … electromagnetic frequencies and that way it will allow them to have direct electronic communication with their cell phone and lap top and electronic devices.

Randy Atkins: 21st century ears! With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.

Anchor Tag: The researchers say these bionic ears are probably about five to ten years from being used in humans.