Crazy experiment shows humans can learn to echolocate like bats

Crazy experiment shows humans can learn to echolocate like bats

When you think of echolocation, you probably think of bats or dolphins. But echolocation has also been used as a way for blind people to navigate, too. Despite the skill’s usefulness, few blind people have actually learned how to use echolocation. Now, though, researchers say humans can learn echolocation in as little as 10 weeks. Which could make it a viable skill for people with vision impairments.

Humans can learn echolocation in just 10 weeks, experiment shows

The researchers published a paper with their findings in PLOS One. The researchers ran the experiment using 12 participants who had all been diagnosed as legally blind at a young age. They also included 14 people who had no issues with their sight in the experiment. They then taught the participants how to use echolocation over the course of 20 training sessions.

Each training session lasted approximately two- to three hours, according to the researchers. The researchers found that both blind and sight participants were able to learn echolocation, and they also improved their click-based echolocation skills.

They spent 10 weeks teaching the participants to navigate virtual mazes, all with T-intersections, U bends, and even zig-zags. The experiment ended with all participants showing greater ability to use echolocation to navigate virtual mazes.

Further, the researchers found that the participants of the group had performed equally with people who have been using echolocation for years. As such, it appears humans can pick up on the skill effectively, even over a short amount of time.

The viability of echolocation

What makes learning echolocation so enticing though? Well, for starters, we’ve already seen how effective it can be in the animal world. Bats, dolphins, whales, and some other creatures like seals rely on echolocation to navigate the world in different ways. And, if the skill can be taught to humans in a short time, it could be a new way for people with impairments to get around.

Echolocation can still offer a lot of assistance to people, even if they are not legally blind. Our sight becomes less sharp as we get older. As it does, it can become harder to navigate the world around us. If people can learn to use echolocation to navigate the world, it may not be as devastating to their navigation skills.

Researchers have tested the viability of click-based echolocation in the past. However, this is the first time that the experiments have included people who are blind and of various ages. Now that we know that both blind and sighted people can learn echolocation, perhaps we can find new ways to help people with vision impairments get around more easily.

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