Blind boy uses echolocation to ‘see’ world

I’m a bit skeptical about this story, but I’m not sure whether it’s just because it’s on AOL’s news service (not known for their cutting edge journalism) or whether it’s because it has a cutesy video of the boy ‘connecting’ with dolphins. If accurate though, it’s quite an amazing talent.

Completely blind since the age of 3, after retinal cancer claimed both his eyes (he now wears two prostheses), Ben has learned to perceive and locate objects by making a steady stream of sounds with his tongue, then listening for the echoes as they bounce off the surfaces around him. About as loud as the snapping of fingers, Ben’s clicks tell him what’s ahead: the echoes they produce can be soft (indicating metals), dense (wood) or sharp (glass). Judging by how loud or faint they are, Ben has learned to gauge distances.

Link to article ‘The Boy Who Sees with Sound’.

5 Comments

  1. Posted July 18, 2006 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    If true, Nagel’s famous article ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ won’t ever read quite the same way again. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Nagel

  2. Posted July 18, 2006 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve actually seen this done in the lab. I was working with Steve Mann (http://eyetap.org) trying to get his eyetap technology to work with a lowvision friend (it worked, but we didnt’ move forward), and a man from the states was up to show him an artificial version of what you’re describing. The man, his name escapes me, was blind. He moved through the lab using self-generated echo-location. It was interesting to watch.

  3. Posted July 18, 2006 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    This is actually very possible… in fact-
    there is a system that generates some crazy noises based on a video system. One patient who has had it for many years actually reported that one day she began to “see.”
    I’ll see if I can track down the presentation I just saw about it.

  4. Posted July 19, 2006 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I just posted some more information on omnibrain about the above topic – check it out
    http://www.omnibrain.org/2006/07/seeing-with-sound.html

  5. Posted October 1, 2008 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    This is a fascinating ability, with profound implications on the evolution of mankind. This is another sense of perception that we have not refined quite like the other 5, but it exists. I’m sure everyone has experienced it too. When you are driving your car with the window down, you can hear telephone poles, mailboxes, fences whiz by, right? Well they don’t make any noise, that is all echolocation.
    I’m working on furthering my abilities in echolocation now, if you want to help me or learn from my trials, check out my link.


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