Most humans can learn how to echolocate with enough training, using their tongue to make clicking sounds and interpret the echoes that come back.

Researchers have been able to teach participants how to navigate obstacles and recognize the size and orientation of objects in less than a decade.

The results of the experiment were published in the year 2021.

We usually associate echolocation with animals such as bats and whales, but some blind humans use the echoes of their own sounds to detect obstacles and their outlines. Some people use a cane to make noise while others use their mouths to make a clicking sound.

Most blind people don't know how to do it. A simple training schedule is all that's needed to spread the word among expert echolocators.

"I can't think of any other work with blind people that has had such positive feedback," said a psychologist from Durham University in the UK when the results were published.

Blind and sighted people improved greatly at click-based echolocation over the course of 20 training sessions.

Participants were trained to navigate virtual mazes and identify the size and orientation of objects with mouth clicks.

Participants were tested in a virtual maze for the first time in the final two sessions. The number of crashes was less than they had been at the beginning of the program.

The echoes of their clicks were making it easier for people to navigate the course.

The authors found that the newly trained echolocators performed as well in the maze as the expert echolocators who had been using this skill for a long time.

Participants in the study performed the same in the additional tests as the experts.

This was the first study to see if click-based echolocation can be learned by blind people and people of different ages.

It's not clear if those who grow up without vision can use the same neural networks as those who do.

The older a person is, the less plastic their brain is.

This can make learning new skills more difficult as you get older, but the research suggests that's not a limitation in learning echolocation.

The authors found that older age was not related to more collisions in the maze task.

There was no evidence for an association between age and performance in the practical tasks when we quantified the degree to which participants improved from session 1 to session 20.

The authors said that training led to remarkable behavioral changes for all participants, no matter their age.

Three months after the training sessions ended, blind participants reported improved mobility. 10 out of the 12 people who took the survey said the skill had helped them.

Thaler said that it would make sense to provide information and training in click-based echolocation to people who are expected to lose vision later in life because of progressive degenerative eye conditions.

The study was published in a peer reviewed journal.

The first version of this article was published in June of 2020.