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Science & Technology

Humans can learn echolocation in 10 weeks

By T.K. Randall
June 5, 2021 · Comment icon 5 comments

Humans can learn how to use echolocation surprisingly quickly. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 CSIRO
A new experiment has shown that humans are quite capable of learning how to 'see' with sound.
In the natural world, echolocation is a valuable tool with which animals such as bats and dolphins can 'see' and navigate by producing sound waves and picking up the echoes.

Bats, for instance, use ultrasound waves, which are beyond the range of human hearing, while dolphins and porpoises produce high-frequency clicks to find objects underwater.

While these might seem like special abilities beyond the capabilities of humans, it turns out that, not only is it possible for a human to learn a form of echolocation, but they can do it within 10 weeks.

For a recent experiment, 12 people who had been diagnosed as legally blind during childhood, as well as 14 able-sighted people, volunteered to learn how to use echolocation to help navigate mazes.

During 20 training sessions of up to 3 hours long, they learned to produce clicks and interpret the echoes to determine their immediate environment within the context of a virtual maze.
Different features of the mazes, such as junctions, corners and straight corridors, produced a different echo, thus making it possible to interpret what was there without being able to see anything.

Interestingly, the volunteers were almost as adept at this task within this short time frame as expert echolocators who had been practicing the technique for years.

The findings suggest that echolocation could be an important skill for people who are blind.

"We are very excited about this," said psychologist Lore Thaler from the UK's Durham University.

"[I] feel that it would make sense to provide information and training in click-based echolocation to people who may still have good functional vision, but who are expected to lose vision later in life because of progressive degenerative eye conditions."

Source: Science Alert | Comments (5)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Buzz_Light_Year 3 years ago
I learned about this from a story about a remarkable young man by the name of Ben Underwood who lost his eyes at age 3 to cancer. Unfortunately the cancer eventually killed him.  
Comment icon #2 Posted by DanL 3 years ago
It is amazing what people are actually capable of doing when circumstances force it onto them or situations make it important. I used to walk for hours at night. I'm a chronic insomniac. I eventually noticed that the darkness in no way seemed to be a problem. I started walking with my eyes closed trying to figure out what I was sensing that allowed me to walk for an hour with my eyes closed and never step off the street or road and usually walked the center of the streets. Finally I figured it out. A street offers you two very east to sense ways to know where you are. First the streets have a ... [More]
Comment icon #3 Posted by fred_mc 3 years ago
 I watched a documentary once about a blind boy who could ride a bike by using echolocation. He was making clicking sounds with his mouth that he used for echolocation.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Nosy.Matters 3 years ago
Interesting post, thanks. May be relevant,, I didn't seem to see a  book fiction   ((category)cat so,, will post it here: Author: Kat Falls, 'Dark Life' I picked it up on a whim and was pleasantly surprised. Although she has other's published, like most I don't see the extra time to get to them. Cleverly written, clean fun odysseys full of adventure swirling in action packed intrigue. About a family in a beta community living just offshore under the waves in the ocean. Oh ,, and of course, some of the new children using a form of Echo Location.
Comment icon #5 Posted by NCC1701 3 years ago
You should have glasses that send out clicks. Ten you'll get a good idea of your surroundings based on the echos.

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