Micromachined biomimetic optical microphones with improved packaging and power consumption
Banser, Frederic Allen
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Low noise, directional microphones are critical for hearing aid applications. This thesis is focused on further development of a biomimetic micromachined directional microphone based on the ear structure of the Ormia Ochracea, a parasitic fly able to locate sound sources in the audio frequency range with high accuracy. The development efforts have been on implementing a version of the microphone for a behind the ear (BTE) package while improving the overall optical efficiency and noise level, demonstrating pulsed laser operation for reduced power consumption, and electrostatic control of the microphone diaphragm position for stable operation over a long time. The new packaging method for the microphone addressed the need for tighter placement tolerances along with a redesigned diaphragm and integration of a microscale optical lens array to improve the optical efficiency of the device. The completed packages were characterized for sensitivity improvement and optical efficiency. The overall optical efficiency was significantly increased from less than 1% to the photo diode array collecting 50% of the emitted optical power from the Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL). This, coupled with the new diaphragm design, improved the acoustic performance of the microphones. Consequently, the noise levels recorded on the devices were about 31 dBA SPL, more than 15dB better than conventional directional microphones with nearly 10 times larger port spacing. Since the application for this technology is hearing aids, the power consumed by the working device needs to be at an acceptable level. The majority of the power used by the microphone is from continuously operating the VCSEL with 2mW optical output power. To reduce this power requirement, it was suggested to pulse the VCSEL at high enough frequency with low duty cycle so that the acoustic signals can be recovered from its samples. In this study, it was found that the VCSEL can be pulsed with little to no degradation in signal to noise ratio as long as the thermal mechanical noise dominated the noise spectrum. The results also indicated that a pulse train with a duty cycle of around 20% can be used without a major loss of performance in the device, meaning the device can effectively run at 1/5 of its original power under pulsed operation mode. Finally, a control technique to overcome some inherent problems of the microphone was demonstrated. Since the optical sensitivity of the microphone depends on the gap between the diaphragm grating and the integrated mirror, it is important to keep that bias gap constant during long term operation against environmental variations and charging effects. Using a simple electrostatic bias controller scheme, the sensitivity variation of the microphone was improved by a factor of 7.68 with bias control. Overall, this thesis has addressed several important aspects of a micromachined biomimetic microphone and further demonstrated its feasibility for hearing aid applications.