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What is Echolocation?

what is echolocation


When one thinks of echolocation the first thing that typically comes to mind is an image of a bat or a dolphin, however the marvels of this natural adaption and how it works often elude those who just glance over it. Echolocation has played a key role in naval warfare over the last century in the form of SONAR navigation but what is more astounding is that some humans have also discovered a way to harness this as a survival apparatus. In order to better understand this biological phenomenon we must first explore the process in how echolocation works.

How Does Echolocation Work?

how does echolocation work

Echolocation uses the reflection of sound waves off of objects to determine a bearing and obstructions in order to navigate safely. Bats are perhaps the most famous animal for using this and have become masters of navigation through sound as well as for the purpose of hunting. In bats, sounds are created through the mouth or nose to reflect off objects which are then detected by their ears to create a mental image of the world around them. The precision attained by these creatures through the master of their biological intuitions allows them to detect objects as narrow as human hair.

Many animals use ultrasonic sonic sounds for echolocation however these are not necessary to properly harness the skill. The advantage of utilizing ultrasound is primarily for hunting so that predators don’t alarm their prey with audio notifications of their approach. In addition to bats, dolphins and whales, scientists have discovered that some birds and shrews use echolocation to hunt or navigate.

Evolution tends to work both ways though leading some creatures to adapt a method to gain a safeguard against creatures that may hunt them using sound waves. In some types of crickets and beetles it has been discovered that they emit a clicking sound to avoid being eaten. The emission of these sounds works to their advantage of some insects to scare away bats by throwing off their audio sensors or startling them. Recent research in technology may have found a way to disguise the reflection of sound waves to create a seemingly invisible audio profile for certain objects.

sonar technology

Use of Echolocation in the Military:

SONAR and RADAR technologies have been developed by closely studying the capabilities of bats and dolphins to harness traveling sound waves to navigate and detect objects. SONAR can only be used in the water and helps to determine a distance from the sea floor as well as detecting ships and submarines which could pose a potential threat. RADAR technology on the other hand is used in both naval and aerial detection and employs electromagnetic waves to locate ships or planes as a defensive strategy.

Human Echolocation:

echolocation 1

With superheroes such as Marvel’s Daredevil, the thought has crossed the mind of young and old alike: can humans adapt to use echolocation? The answer is a definite yes! In fact echolocation in humans is already being used in a primitive sense by many deaf people as a way to navigate their environment. Perhaps one of the most famous echolocators is Daniel Kish who currently works with blind teenagers, after losing his vision at the age of 13, to teach them the skill he has harnessed. Human echolocation works by producing clicks or tapping with the tongue, typically several times a second to gain a bearing of the objects around the individual. Some other notable individuals who have harnessed this skill are Ben Underwood, Dr. Lawrence Scadden, Tom De Witte, Lucas Murray and Juan Ruiz. In addition advanced research into echolocation is being conducted by Kevin Warwick using ultrasonic pulses from a neural implant to stimulate neurons in order to detect objects and their movement.

With the advancements of technology and the ability for humans to adapt and learn from nature such as the use of echolocation the lines of supernatural are becoming blurred more and more every day. In fact echolocation apps are now available on smartphones to allow users to map a room to get a clearer understanding of how this ability works (and how bats see the world).

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