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New study finds blind people have the potential to use their 'inner bat' to locate objects
Date:5/20/2013

New research from the University of Southampton has shown that blind and visually impaired people have the potential to use echolocation, similar to that used by bats and dolphins, to determine the location of an object.

The study, which is published in the journal Hearing Research, examined how hearing, and particularly the hearing of echoes, could help blind people with spatial awareness and navigation. The study also examined the possible effects of hearing impairment and how to optimise echolocation ability in order to help improve the independence and quality of life of people with visual impairments.

Researchers from the University of Southampton's Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) and University of Cyprus conducted a series of experiments with sighted and blind human listeners, using a 'virtual auditory space' technique, to investigate the effects of the distance and orientation of a reflective object on ability to identify the right-versus-left position of the object. They used sounds with different bandwidths and durations (from 10400 milliseconds) as well as various audio manipulations to investigate which aspects of the sounds were important. The virtual auditory space, which was created in ISVR's anechoic chamber, allowed researchers to remove positional clues unrelated to echoes, such as footsteps and the placement of an object, and to manipulate the sounds in ways that wouldn't be possible otherwise (e.g. get rid of the emission and present the echo only).

Dr Daniel Rowan, Lecturer in Audiology in ISVR and lead author of the study, says: "We wanted to determine unambiguously whether blind people, and perhaps even sighted people, can use echoes from an object to determine roughly where the object is located. We also wanted to figure out what factors facilitate and restrict people's abilities to use echoes for this purpose in order to know how to enhance ability in the real world."

The result
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Contact: Peter Franklin
p.franklin@soton.ac.uk
44-238-059-5457
University of Southampton
Source:Eurekalert

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