Human echolocators “see” their worlds through sound, and thanks to a new computer model, you can too.
Using math and painstaking experiments, a group from the UK modeled how the sounds from the nuanced mouth clicks of human echolocators travel around a room. Their findings, reported in PLOS Computational Biology, could yield devices that make “smart” radar maps that reveal the physical features of objects in the environment, like their texture or hardness, based off sounds.
“One motivation was basic curiosity,” said Lore Thaler, a neuroscientist at Durham University. “We know very little about the mouth clicks people make when they echolocate. So we just wanted to know what they are like.”
Human echolocators, like bats, make clicking noises to create sound wave reflections and map their surroundings. You might think this talent requires a superhuman ear, but Thaler said most people, unbeknownst to them, dabble in echolocation all the time. Ambient sounds hint at the type of room you are in: a hard, cavernous gym with bleachers reverberates differently than a cozy bedroom with soft furnishings.