Experiencing Echolocation – seeing with your ears


Teach the concept of echolocation – or “seeing by hearing” to children at
science centers


Sciencecenter displays often present a dichotomy between method (i.e mode/paradigm of interaction) and message (the idea to teach children). From my observations of children visiting sciencenters, the primary component of a display is the interaction itself, with the “message” of the display as a secondary benefit for the child. Thus, for the display to go beyond a means of entertainment and be an effective education tool, the form of interaction should incorporate the underlying message of the display. Specifically, the form of interaction is not generic, but deliberately chosen to convey the message of the display. And the physical display embodies the message as much as possible. This way, this simple act of interacting with the display provides the fundamental components of the message. Of course, it is not possible to strictly represent some ideas using the previous principles. In those cases, any required technologies are used only to represent the actual message. (ie. Abstractions are concrete.)

Under these guidelines, I present “Experiencing Echolocation: Seeing with your ears” as an exemplary sciencecenter display design. By wearing specially designed “batgoggles”, participants experience how bats use echolocation (sonar) to spatialize objects. In echolocation, bats send high-pitched sounds that bounce off objects. By calculating the time it takes sounds to return (or the frequency of returned sounds), bats can determine how far objects are in space. To replicate this, the batgoggles incorporate an ultrasonic sensor that measures distances to objects in its path. Since ultrasonic sounds are inaudible to humans, the distance information is mapped to audible “pings” played by a buzzer in the goggles so people can hear what a bat would when an object is within a certain range. Thus by moving closer or further from objects in the museum, a participant will experience using alternative senses for determining distance to objects. In addition, the goggles will have “bat ears” to encourage children to imagine themselves as bats.

Here, the form of interaction—walking and using a new sense that is based on sound—is specific to the educational message and is not generic. The batgoggles have “bat ears” so that the devices, embodies the subject matter. Finally, any abstractions, such as the lack of true three dimensional localization cues are necessitated by technological limitations and not arbitrary.


More images and instructions to build your own ultrasonic batgoggles @ instructables.com

Video (both are the same)

Ultrasonic Batgoggles | 2008 | Projects | Comments (0)

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