An aVLSI Cricket Ear Model

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 18 (NIPS 2005)

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Andre Schaik, Richard Reeve, Craig Jin, Tara Hamilton


Female crickets can locate males by phonotaxis to the mating song they produce. The behaviour and underlying physiology has been studied in some depth showing that the cricket auditory system solves this complex problem in a unique manner. We present an analogue very large scale integrated (aVLSI) circuit model of this process and show that results from testing the circuit agree with simulation and what is known from the behaviour and physiology of the cricket auditory system. The aVLSI circuitry is now being extended to use on a robot along with previously modelled neural circuitry to better understand the complete sensorimotor pathway.


In t r o d u c t i o n

Understanding how insects carry out complex sensorimotor tasks can help in the design of simple sensory and robotic systems. Often insect sensors have evolved into intricate filters matched to extract highly specific data from the environment which solves a particular problem directly with little or no need for further processing [1]. Examples include head stabilisation in the fly, which uses vision amongst other senses to estimate self-rotation and thus to stabilise its head in flight, and phonotaxis in the cricket. Because of the narrowness of the cricket body (only a few millimetres), the Interaural Time Difference (ITD) for sounds arriving at the two sides of the head is very small (1020s). Even with the tympanal membranes (eardrums) located, as they are, on the forelegs of the cricket, the ITD only reaches about 40s, which is too low to detect directly from timings of neural spikes. Because the wavelength of the cricket calling song is significantly greater than the width of the cricket body the Interaural Intensity Difference (IID) is also very low. In the absence of ITD or IID information, the cricket uses phase to determine direction. This is possible because the male cricket produces an almost pure tone for its calling song. *


School of Electrical and Information Engineering, Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour.

Figure 1: The cricket auditory system. Four acoustic inputs channel sounds directly or through tracheal tubes onto two tympanal membranes. Sound from contralateral inputs has to pass a (double) central membrane (the medial septum), inducing a phase delay and reduction in gain. The sound transmission from the contralateral tympanum is very weak, making each eardrum effectively a 3 input system. The physics of the cricket auditory system is well understood [2]; the system (see Figure 1) uses a pair of sound receivers with four acoustic inputs, two on the forelegs, which are the external surfaces of the tympana, and two on the body, the prothoracic or acoustic spiracles [3]. The connecting tracheal tubes are such that interference occurs as sounds travel inside the cricket, producing a directional response at the tympana to frequencies near to that of the calling song. The amplitude of vibration of the tympana, and hence the firing rate of the auditory afferent neurons attached to them, vary as a sound source is moved around the cricket and the sounds from the different inputs move in and out of phase. The outputs of the two tympana match when the sound is straight ahead, and the inputs are bilaterally symmetric with respect to the sound source. However, when sound at the calling song frequency is off-centre the phase of signals on the closer side comes better into alignment, and the signal increases on that side, and conversely decreases on the other. It is that crossover of tympanal vibration amplitudes which allows the cricket to track a sound source (see Figure 6 for example). A simplified version of the auditory system using only two acoustic inputs was implemented in hardware [4], and a simple 8-neuron network was all that was required to then direct a robot to carry out phonotaxis towards a species-specific calling song [5]. A simple simulator was also created to model the behaviour of the auditory system of Figure 1 at different frequencies [6]. Data from Michelsen et al. [2] (Figures 5 and 6) were digitised, and used together with average and "typical" values from the paper to choose gains and delays for the simulation. Figure 2 shows the model of the internal auditory system of the cricket from sound arriving at the acoustic inputs through to transmission down auditory receptor fibres. The simulator implements this model up to the summing of the delayed inputs, as well as modelling the external sound transmission. Results from the simulator were used to check the directionality of the system at different frequencies, and to gain a better understanding of its response. It was impractical to check the effect of leg movements or of complex sounds in the simulator due to the necessity of simulating the sound production and transmission. An aVLSI chip was designed to implement the same model, both allowing more complex experiments, such as leg movements to be run, and experiments to be run in the real world.

Figure 2: A model of the auditory system of the cricket, used to build the simulator and the aVLSI implementation (shown in boxes). These experiments with the simulator and the circuits are being published in [6] and the reader is referred to those papers for more details. In the present paper we present the details of the circuits used for the aVLSI implementation.