Bats have inspired the production of vibrating canes to
be placed at the service of the visually impaired. Plane command systems
working on the same principles are also planned for development.
The particularly light electronic cane emits sound waves at a frequency
(ultrasonic) too high to be detected by the human ear, and produces a
three-dimensional map of the objects within a three-metre radius around
it. The cane detects when there is an obstacle in its path and warns its
visually impaired owner by causing buttons on the handle to vibrate. The
product design belongs to Dean Waters, a research assistant at the University
of Leeds and an authority on the bat. Waters states that the cane, so
far tested on 25 visually impaired people, has proved to be highly successful.
The cane emits 60,000 sound pulses per second and perceives the returning
echoes. Buttons on the cane permit the visually impaired user to feel
the intensity of the ultrasound reflections. A rapid and powerful signal
means the obstacle is close by. (2)
Waters, a zoologist, staged an interesting display at a science festival
in Salford near the British city of Manchester, in order to attract attention
to his work. At this display the location detection system, bat sonar
adapted to the human ear, was used to locate objects in a virtual reality
environment. The idea here was to develop systems to make it possible
for fighter pilots to control some flight systems through their sense
of hearing. Pilots will thus be able to use their eyes for other tasks.
"When you drive, you can't look at the speedometer and the road
at the same time, but you can listen to the radio at the same time,"
(3) says Waters.
Since human beings are unable to produce the high-frequency sound waves
generated by the bats, Waters developed a virtual system that sends out
the bat echolocation sounds and returns echoes that are reduced to a frequency
capable of detection by the human ear. He placed people wearing headphones
in a room and asked them to hunt a virtual insect using only the echolocation
sounds. The subjects were more successful in finding their targets with
bat sounds in comparison a sound source such as stereo. This difference
stems from bat calls being better at producing auditory maps of space.
Since the calls are short the echoes return in a very sharp form. These
also possess a broadband structure, and contain both high and low frequency
data. Bats are thus able to determine location more effectively. In addition,
when bats approach their target the dynamically change the sounds they
emit, using shorter calls as they near an object.
This superior hunting system in bats constitutes the source of both the
sonar cane and the virtual location identification system. There is no
doubt that this is a sign that there is a perfectly functioning design
in the bat, a system so impressive as to be a source of inspiration for
the very latest technology.
When we look at the sonar cane we understand that it was designed with
a particular purpose in mind. We see that specific components have been
specially combined in such a way as to emit sounds and identify the location
of objects by detecting their reflections. These features exist in exactly
the same way in the bat, the inspiration behind the sonar cane. Like other
organs such as the ear and brain that work with perfect co-ordination,
bat sonar is an organ that endows this creature, which hunts by night
and is unable to see its surroundings, with an advantage in terms of locating
its prey. Although engineers have taken bat sonar as a model, the bat
did not take the idea from other living things and then develop it in
its own body. It is evident that this organ, with a far more complex design
than that in the sonar cane, was perfectly created. God created the bat
using no previous model. In one verse of the Qur'an God reveals:
[God is] the Originator of the heavens and Earth. When
He decides on something, He just says to it, "Be!" and it is.
1 Joanne Baker, "Sonar cane helps blind navigate", Nature Science
Update, 9 September 2003, http://www.nature.com/nsu/030908/030908-2.html
2 Joanne Baker, ibid
3 Emily Singer, "Bat echoes used as virtual reality guide",
14 September 2003, NewScientist.com