Science & Technology
Humans can learn echolocation in 10 weeks
By T.K. Randall
June 5, 2021 · 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
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