[AI] Blind taught to 'see' like a bat
misterbhatt at gmail.com
Tue Feb 12 10:15:39 EST 2008
Although the below news is not the latest to catch-up with, however some of us may find it intriguing.
Blind taught to 'see' like a bat
BLIND British children are to be taught a pioneering bat-style echolocation technique to visualise their surroundings.
The children are learning how to build up detailed images of the world around them by clicking their tongue and interpreting the sound as it echoes back.
The technique is used by animals such as bats, dolphins and whales to navigate and hunt in the dark.
Bats are able to manoeuvre around caves and catch tiny insects on the wing by emitting short bursts of high-pitched noise and reading the sound waves as
they bounce back to their highly evolved ears.
There is emerging evidence that blind people can harness their sense of hearing - which is often more acute - to interpret reflected sound and create detailed
mental images of their surroundings, including the distance, size and density of objects.
The technique is being piloted in Glasgow, where 10 children aged five to 17 are being taught by staff from Visibility, one of the city's oldest charities
for the blind. The children are learning how to make the clicking sound and how to use the technique even in noisy urban areas, including the underground
Blind people in America, where human echolocation was pioneered, have learnt to differentiate between people, trees, buildings and parked cars by interpreting
the pitch and timbre of the echo they produce. Practitioners say they can determine the height, density and shape of objects up to 100ft away.
People using echolocation can determine the distance they are from an object by the length of time it takes for the sound to travel back. Its position can
be established by whether the echo hits the left or right ear first. The size of an object can be determined by the intensity of the echo. A smaller object
reflects less of the sound wave. The object's direction of movement can be established by the pitch of the echo, which is lower if it is moving away from
Echolocation has been endorsed by Professor Gordon Dutton, one of Britain's leading paediatric ophthalmologists, who wants the technique to be taught to
blind and visually impaired people across the country. There are about 385,000 registered blind and partially sighted people in Britain.
"It's very exciting," said Dutton, of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow. "I have seen echolocation being used - it's quite stunning. It has
been demonstrated to me that it absolutely works.
"Of course there will be scepticism and doubt but the benefits are without question. It will make a massive difference to the lives of blind and visually
The project in Glasgow follows a visit last year by Dan Kish, a 41-year-old blind man from California, who pioneered the technique. Kish, who runs the not-for-profit
organisation World Access for the Blind, has also been commissioned by the charity Common Sense to present his method to the families of blind people in
His command of the technique is such that he can ride a bicycle on public roads and distinguish between different types of fruit on trees merely by clicking
his tongue. A video on the website YouTube shows Kish and a number of his friends demonstrating their skills.
Ben Underwood, a teenager who lost his sight when he was three, has also become a celebrity in America because of his ability to use echolocation to ride
a bike and to go skateboarding.
Although there have been no scientific studies of echolocation, supporters say it can hugely improve the lives of blind and partially sighted children.
While using a cane allows blind people to identify obstacles in their path, echolocation is said to provide 360-degree "vision" and can give them far greater
"It's a type of seeing in its own right, which probably uses similar brain imaging mechanisms to eyesight," Kish said.
"Students almost invariably become more confident, move faster and participate in more activities," he continued. "They show improved posture and regard
themselves as more able to direct themselves through their environment with less need for others.
"They are freer, and better able to choose the quality of life they wish to achieve, rather than have this chosen for them."
Fiona Sandford, chief executive of Visibility, added: "This is a pioneering technique that will transform the lives of young blind children.
"We have trained four visually impaired adults and they are now using their skills to train children. We hope to roll this out to adults. I have seen it
being used and it works."
Belgium's federal police use a unit of blind officers specifically for their acute sense of hearing, in analysing phone taps and bugged conversations in
investigations of terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime.
The detectives can separate the voices of different speakers and pick up sonic clues such as whether a suspect is in a railway station or a restaurant or
whether the caller is using a land-line or mobile phone. Some officers have even identified the make of car suspects are using.
A detective in Antwerp, Sacha van Loo, 36, who is trained in echolocation, correctly identified a drug smuggler as Albanian from his accent when sighted
colleagues thought the man was Moroccan.
Hollywood has also depicted the heightened senses of the blind. In the 2003 film Dare-devil, Ben Affleck plays a New York lawyer, blinded in childhood,
who transforms himself into a masked crime-busting superhero by night, using his acute hearing as a "radar sense" to "see" through the dark.
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Have your say
The difference between machine and person is that the person becomes attuned to the vagaries of their own clicks, it's like using your hand or using a "waldo"
- you'll always be better with your hands. Also, if two "clickers" get near each other, each person will have a different sound to listen to. This IS a
great possibility, and I look forward to "seeing" the results.
And Tom Reid - you'll have better luck with echolocation if the sound originates near your ears. The time difference with a cane is noticable.
Michael, Houston, Texas, USA
Totally Blind myself. This is yet another fairy tale. Light travels at 186000 miles per sec, sound, 700 miles per hour. 30,000 hair cells in ear. Billions
of neurons dedicated to vision. We don't hear ultrasound. Most blind people are older and their hearing is consequently reducing. No way is this accurate
enough or quick enough. Use sound all the time. Hit the ground with a stick in the snow for instance. Given that you know your environment, you do get
enough sound clues to be able to guess that you are passing a big or small object and can tell that something is likely to be a car or bus shelter. You
can not detecd things much below head level. Could never detect holes in ground by clicking. This needs properly tested . May provide"Consultants" with
a bit of cash. Try putting money in something more useful.
Tom Reid, London, United Kingdom
Science Fiction got there first. "Dark Universe", D. Galouye, 1962.
Tatiana Covington, Tucson, AZ USA
Cool, but why not build a device that does the clicking? Surely machine generated clicks could be louder, more frequent and their pitch could be tuned for
It could even be ultrasonic, with a receiver and an earpiece.
Dragon's den anyone?
D Rochester, Liverpool, UK
Actually, teaching people to click is a better idea, because you can lose a device or have it taken from you. Or it may break. And the independence a blind
person will experience will be greater if he is producing the sound himself. I think it's a wonderful idea!
Pat, Arizona, USA
This learned technique sounds most interesting and possibly helpful to the blind person. It cannot replace the security of the Guide Dog and companions.
Jane Fleming, Peterborough, UK
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