Some people who are blind have trained themselves in echolocation using mouth clicks. Here, we provide the first report of psychophysical and clicking data during echolocation of distance from a group of 8 blind people with experience in mouth click-based echolocation (daily use for > 3 years). We found that experienced echolocators can detect changes in distance of 3 cm at a reference distance of 50 cm, and a change of 7 cm at a reference distance of 150 cm, regardless of object size (i.e. 28.5 cm vs. 80 cm diameter disk). Participants made mouth clicks that were more intense and they made more clicks for weaker reflectors (i.e. same object at farther distance, or smaller object at same distance), but number and intensity of clicks were adjusted independently from one another. The acuity we found is better than previous estimates based on samples of sighted participants without experience in echolocation or individual experienced participants (i.e. single blind echolocators tested) and highlights adaptation of the perceptual system in blind human echolocators. Further, the dynamic adaptive clicking behaviour we observed suggests that number and intensity of emissions serve separate functions to increase SNR. The data may serve as an inspiration for low-cost (i.e. non-array based) artificial ‘cognitive’ sonar and radar systems, i.e. signal design, adaptive pulse repetition rate and intensity. It will also be useful for instruction and guidance for new users of echolocation.
Thaler, L., De Vos, H., Kish, D., Antoniou, M., Baker, C., & Hornikx, M. (2019). Human Click-Based Echolocation of Distance: Superfine Acuity and Dynamic Clicking Behaviour. Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, 20(5), 499-510. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10162-019-00728-0