Sunday, June 23, 2024

Human Echolocation

We all know that bats, dolphins, whales, and birds use echolocation to communicate, hunt for food, and gauge directions. What I didn't know was that humans can also use echolocation to do similar tasks. Nathan Hurst's article on human echolocation explores how visually impaired people use their voices to understand their surroundings. His article surrounds an echolocation technique called "flash sonar," which uses echolocation in a similar way to a flashlight. He mentions that this technique can allow clarity and focus with every flash, creating a 3D geometrical space. Depth and structure are also present with density and texture, similar to color. Daniel Kish provides an example of this to give more clarity.

"I’m walking through my neighborhood, on the phone with you. Right now, I’m passing by a neighbor’s house, and she’s got a lot of trees surrounding her house. It’s very treed and hedged and heavily bushed. It’s very fuzzy, it’s kind of soft, it’s kind of wispy. Foliage has a particular effect, a particular signature. It puts out a very specific image. I can tell you that someone has done a lot of work on her yard, because her tree line and hedge line are thinned out. Now I’m aware of the fencing behind the tree line, which I always new was there, but now it’s much more clear because the tree line is more transparent, acoustically. But you know, I also have one ear to a phone" (Hurst, 2017). 

These clicks and sounds were studied and perfected in order to make echolocation more direct. Hurst writes, "The study sampled thousands of clicks from three different echolocators, and examined their consistency, direction, frequency, and more, including describing a 60-degree “cone of perception” that radiates out from the mouth and provides the most detail in the scene," (Hurst, 2017). This is very interesting to me, seeing as I have full vision and would never expect to use echolocation to guide me through my day-to-day life. It is beneficial to see the science behind things I do not understand. 


Hurst, N. (2017, October 2). How Does Human Echolocation Work? Smithsonian;

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