People can learn to echolocate like bats in just ten weeks

We've posted several times about how people who are blind who have learned how to "see" and navigate the world using echolocation like bats, shrews, and whales. The skill involves making loud clicking noises with the tongue and then listening for the echo to judge not only distance but sometimes even determine the material of an object. New research now suggests that people who are sighted and blind can learn click-based echolocation in just ten weeks. From Smithsonian:

[According to cognitive neuroscientist Lore Thaler,] "People who took part in our study reported that the training in click-based echolocation had a positive effect on their mobility, independence and well-being, attesting that the improvements we observed in the lab transcended into positive life benefits outside the lab."

Participants were between 21 and 79 years old, and included 12 people who are blind and 14 people who are not blind. Over their ten weeks of echolocation training, they faced tasks like using clicking to figure out whether the pair of disks in front of them had a larger disk at the top or bottom or to identify how a rectangle plank was oriented. Participants also navigated obstacles virtually in the lab, and outside of the lab, they navigated using clicking and a long cane.

The results showed that all of the participants could learn how to echolocate, regardless of their age or whether they were blind. Some of the study participants even did better at their tasks when compared to the seven expert echolocators, who have more than a decade of experience using echolocation to navigate.

"Human click-based echolocation: Effects of blindness and age, and real-life implications in a 10-week training program" (PLOS One)

image (cropped): Petteri Aimonen (Public Domain)