Watch a video comparing humans and bats that use echolocation

Meet a man with a remarkable sense of hearing that allows him to locate objects in space - without seeing them.

Daniel Kish has been blind since he was 13 months old, but has learned to “see” using a form of echolocation. He clicks his tongue and sends out flashes of sound that bounce off surfaces in the environment and return to him, helping him to construct an understanding of the space around him. In a rousing talk, Kish demonstrates how this works and asks us to let go of our fear of the “dark unknown.”

Published on Jul 5, 2013
Human echolocation - Daniel Kish, "Batman" - Seeing without sight

Daniel Kish is famous for his abilities to see using sound, despite being totally blind. The notion of multimodal perception has long been promoted by Gibsonian scientists and is understood via the field known as ecological psychology and direct perception theory. That we can see - and hear - the shape of objects without using the eyes is understandable using the framework of invariants and invariant information - the same information across different senses: The senses are NOT the cause...the information is! (The senses are only the material cause, but the information is the formal cause, in Aristotelian terms). Sensations are merely side effects - what is perceived are the "affordances" of the world

Published on Mar 26, 2014
Marine Mammalogist, Dr Magnus Wahlber meets Daniel who has been a human echolocator for 42 years. Daniel has the extraordinary ability to use a sonar like technique to experience the world around him.

Christian can't see this photo of himself whizzing down a ramp on a skateboard.

The seven-year-old is blind.

And like a bat, he uses sound to navigate his way through the world, clicking his tongue to produce echoes that create a mental image of his surrounds.

The method is called echo-location, and it is a skill that Christian has been practising at the new Insight school for the blind and vision impaired in Berwick.

"I use it when I'm out in public and I think there's something in front of me," the grade 2 student said.

"I can echo-locate a rubbish bin, a sign, a wall, a saucepan."

The specialist primary school has had to bring in help from overseas, with United States human echo-location expert Daniel Kish running two sessions with students.

Kish – who recently featured on a This American Life podcast called Batman – is a blind man who travels the world, hikes along ravines, cycles and "sees" by clicking his tongue.

He took students to a park and taught them how to map out the location of trees by producing quick clicks with their tongues, and processing the echoes as they bounced off surfaces.

Christian went to a nearby skate park and used clicks to navigate the space with Kish. He's not confident enough to roll down the park's half pipe yet, but the school has made a custom skate ramp for Christian which he practices on at lunchtime.

The Berwick school opened last year following a five-year campaign by parents. Founder Alan Lachman, whose 13-year-old daughter Francesca is a full-time student at Insight, decided to open the school after Vision Australia's Burwood school closed in 2009.

Twenty full and part-time students attend the school, which integrates the very visual Australian Curriculum into all its lessons. It also operates a mobile classroom, which travels to mainstream Victorian schools and provides support and skills to blind and vision-impaired students.

"This is a new model that involves a specialist provider working with the mainstream," Mr Lachman said.

He said blind and vision-impaired students were not receiving the support they needed, and often lagged behind their peers in literacy and numeracy. Almost 60 per cent of blind and vision impaired Australians are unemployed, a statistic Mr Lachman described as "abysmal".

"There is a huge gap and that's what we are trying to fix. We are giving them skills to make sure they get the jobs they want, looking at what they need to make it in high school, to uni or TAFE. We need the kids to exit knowing what they want to be."

The school has received $1.5 million from the federal government and is nervously waiting to see if $2.4 million promised by the Andrews government is included in the May state budget. The money is needed to support the outreach program and for a new building.

The mobile classroom rolled into Timbarra P-9 College on Tuesday to meet 12–year-old Sam Valavanis for the first time. He created weird, alien-like sounds on an iPad app and practiced his skills on Jaws, a screen reading software.

"I love this," he said, grinning from ear to ear.


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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: Watch a video comparing humans and bats that use echolocation
Watch a video comparing humans and bats that use echolocation
BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats
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