The Echolocation Project
Sadie and Lena
We have been researching echolocation for our DEEP project. Echolocation is the use of sonar waves to detect nearby objects. It is what many animals such as dolphins, whales and bats use to sense their surroundings. During our studies, we have been focusing on how dolphins and humans use echolocation. Dolphins create clicking, squeaking, or whistling sounds by pushing air through their nasal passage, and into their phonic lips, which is a structure that causes vibration and sounds, like vocal chords. The air being pushed causes a vibration in the tissue of the phonic lips and produces sound. Then a fatty part of the dolphin’s head, called the melon, beams this sound through the water until it reaches another object. The sound then hits the object and returns an echo to the dolphin that receives the vibration back through a fatty area in their jaw bone. It is then sent to the inner ear bones, then through the auditory nerve to the brain. From this, the dolphin is able to tell the shape, size, and distance of the object. Because these animals’ habitats are often difficult to see in, echolocation helps them navigate the dark and murky waters.
By studying echolocation in dolphins, whales, and other animals, it peaked our interest in another topic, human echolocation. Human echolocation became very interesting to us when we discovered that a small group of the visually impaired actually use this method in their everyday lives. One man named Daniel Kish perfected the method of echolocation for himself. Daniel was born with bilateral retinoblastoma which resulted in the removal of his right eye at seven months and his left eye at thirteen months. Ever since he lost his eyesight, he developed a new way of seeing the world around him. Even at a young age, Daniel was able to create images in his visual cortex just through hearing the echo of the sounds he made. Daniel mastered the skills of many tasks that normally would be very difficult for someone who could not see such as hiking, mountain biking, and cross country skiing. Today, Daniel leads groups of blind teenagers and teaches them how to navigate themselves through their everyday lives. He is the president of the World Access of the Blind. Although Daniel Kish is the most notable human echolocator, there are many others who share the same talent, including Tom de Witte, Ben Underwood, Dr. Lawrence Scadden and Lucas Murray. The reason Daniel Kish was so inspirational to us was because of his attitude and determination to teach the next generation of visually impaired students to see the world as he does.
After researching echolocation and how visually impaired people use it in their lives, we decided to build our own echolocating device. We wanted to build something that would imitate the echolocation method that dolphins use underwater, bats use in caves, and blind people use in their daily lives. This prompted us to create our DEEP project. It consists of an Ultrasonic Ping Sensor, an Arduino circuit board, our original 3-D printed cases and soldered connecting wires. The sensor works in a similar way as a dolphin's brain. Like the dolphin, our sensor releases sonar waves and receives an echo telling the sensor the distance from the object. Our sensor then sends a message to the Arduino through the connecting wires. When the Arduino receives this information, it tells the speaker to make a beeping sound. Depending on how far away the object is from the sensor, the speaker will make a lower pitch when the object is further away and when the object is closer it will make a higher pitch. The point of our project is to give the user of our project the tools they need to navigate around in their daily lives.
Our first step to this project was to design and print the case that holds the Ping sensor. After creating five different prototypes on a 3-D printing program called TinkerCad, we finally perfected a model and printed it. Then, we moved onto coding the Arduino circuit board. After this, we used the connecting wires to send the code from the sensor to the Arduino board. We started with an Arduino code from online and altered it to suit the needs of our project. The first speaker we used did not work properly and made an irritating sound. The second speaker worked perfectly, the beeping sound it made was more suitable and it changed pitch to accommodate our project needs. We then designed the case that holds our Arduino and battery, then printed it. After we had all of our supplies and materials ready, we put them all together on an elastic belt that is designed to be worn by the user of the device and we were ready for testing. To test out our Arduino Sensor we created a maze formed out of PE matts and blindfolded ourselves to replicate the vision of a blind person. Using our project we navigated through the maze, and even ventured outside, without any difficulty.
After completing our project, there was very little that we would have changed. We thought that it would have been a good idea to install an earpiece so that only the person using the device would be able to hear the beeping sounds. We would have also spent more time perfecting the case that holds the Arduino and battery pack because it would prevent the Arduino from falling out or becoming damaged. In conclusion, we enjoyed this project immensely and we look forward to more venues like this in the future. We enjoyed learning all the new information about dolphins and other marine life that we had not known before. We also thought it was extremely interesting to learn about Daniel Kish, who not only taught himself how to see without eyes, but shared his wisdom with others.