For many years, some blind people have used echolocation, making a sharp clicking sound with their tongue and listening for its reflection to navigate in space. Now, a new study has shown that humans are able to learn to echolocate from the sounds they make, regardless of age or ability to see. And it only takes ten weeks.
A team of researchers taught 12 blind and 14 visually impaired people to use tongue clatter to navigate space
In a new study published in the journal PLOS One, scientists decided to find out if echolocation can be taught to inexperienced people, both with and without sight, in a relatively short period of time, and whether this skill really helps blind people.
For the experiment, the researchers recruited 14 sighted and 12 blind volunteers. The participants were between 21 and 79 years old and none of them had ever used echolocation before. Over the course of ten weeks, people went through 20 intense workouts lasting two to three hours.
After ten weeks of training sessions, participants underwent various tests, such as the ability to recognize the relative position and size of nearby objects, or the ability to move around in their natural environment without using sight, but only clicks with their tongue.
The scientists found that in ten weeks, all the volunteers learned the basics of echolocation. This was not influenced by age or vision. Some participants even performed on certain tasks as well as experienced “sonar”, while some sighted did better than some blind.
Three months after the end of the training, the blind volunteers said that they began to orient themselves better using echolocation. In a follow-up survey, 10 out of 12 participants said the skill benefited their independence and well-being.