Bat-like Sonar Abilities Help the Blind Navigate

There are many ways for blind people to get assistance in their daily life. Some people have walking dogs to help them get around. Others can be seen walking through the streets with the aid of walking canes. Some blind people may have even more sophisticated ways of getting around.

Recent research shows that certain blind people can use echolocation. It is a method similar to the sonar technique that bats use to get around.

Ability to Move Around Like a Bat

Bats have the ability to get around by bouncing high-pitched noises off objects. When they are flying around, they pick up on the echo that bounces back at them. Recent research is showing that some individuals who have been blind for years are using the same process. Some blind people have become so adept at this that they can even mountain bike and play ball games.

The University of Ontario did the study with two individuals who have been blind from a young age. These two individuals bounced noise around them by making clicks with their mouths. Microphones within their ears picked up very faint echoes being sent back to them. At the same time, they did an MRI scan on their brains in order to figure out how the process works.

They found that the two individuals could use the echoes to identify the shape of objects and their distances. The brain scans showed the visual part of the brain, and not the audio part of the brain, was helping them pick up the echoes.

Dr. Mel Goodale of the University of Western Ontario says, “It is clear that echolocation enables blind people to do things that are otherwise thought to be impossible without vision, and in this way it can provide blind and vision-impaired people with a high degree of independence in their daily lives.”

How to Be Like a Bat or Use Echolocation

The researchers said that anyone could learn to echolocate.

Dr. Mel Goodale says, “You can hear the differences in the sound waves as they come back. So basically what you can do is extract information now imbedded in those sound waves. That information corresponds to the surfaces from which the sound waves bounce.”

The University of Alcala in Spain has also done research on echo-locating. They say that one of the best ways to echolocate is to use a “palatal click.” This is when the body of the tongue presses against the roof of the mouth and clicks.

Pressing the tongue against the back of the mouth can be used to make “power-clicks.” These clicks are not as clear as the palatal clicks, but can be used for judging distance.

Daniel Kish is one of the individuals who can echolocate and has participated in both the Canadian and Spanish studies. He believes that anyone can echolocate because we have the hardware within our brain. It’s only a matter of using it.

Sources:
Blind Navigation: Echolocate Like a Bat

Blind Navigation: Sonar Abilities

Blind Navigation: How to Echolocate