HUMAN ECHOLOCATION

benunderwood

 


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Ben Underwood had his eyes surgically removed at the age of three due to cancer. He discovered human echolocation at the age of seven and now uses it to accomplish such feats as running, rollerblading, foosball and playing video games. Human echolocation involves creating an environmental image by hearing echoes bouncing from those objects. It is similar in principle to sonar and to the animal echolocation employed by bats and dolphins. Human echolocation has been studied since at least the 1950′s but is still not completely understood. Ray Charles was said to use a variation of the technique by wearing hard-bottomed shoes, the change in sound alerted him to when we had passed through a doorway. However, very few people have mastered human echolocation to a superhuman level like Ben Underwood.

Ben passed away January 19, 2009. He was taken by the same cancer that claimed is sight and leaves behind a legacy of inspiration few will ever match.


Author, researcher and an expert of the odd, J. Tithonus Pednaud has been chronicling bizarre history and highlighting the lives of those born exceeding different for over a decade.

52 Comments

  • Reply December 6, 2006

    rwalter44

    This is amazing!!!

  • Reply December 12, 2006

    Rick Broussard

    It seems too amazing to be true. I’m tempted to believe there’s some kind of a hoax going on. I can just barely imagine how human echolocation could reveal a fallen trashcan, but the video game could not possibly provide sound clues to the precise location of someone firing at you. The foosball table also seems like an unlikely spot for sound or smell or touch to provide sufficient information to beat any sighted person.

  • Reply December 30, 2006

    LeighAnn

    I have seen this before….he is incredible!

  • Reply January 3, 2007

    jlawler32

    He’s unbelievable!He can see better with no eyes than I can with two!——jlawler32

  • Reply May 24, 2007

    Cap'n Hook

    It may be hard to believe, but it could def. be true. As to the videogame, it all depends on what game you’re playing, obviously some games won’t work. In college though I watched my roommate beat people left and right in Tekken while sitting BESIDE the TV, facing away from it.

    Did I hear correctly that Ben’s mother’s name was “Aquanetta”?

  • Reply June 8, 2007

    Anonymous

    *holds up paper*

    Hey Ben, what colour is this paper?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’re blind to the whole EM spectrum and I’m not. I win =D

  • Reply June 25, 2007

    Anonymous

    that’s a little harsh. he may not be able to see the colors, but he can see everything else. you don’t win, he wins.

  • Reply July 21, 2007

    Anonymous

    Echolocation is actually pretty easy to do–so long as you’re in a quiet environment and get a week of practice–although identifying a ‘soft’ object might take a while.. I mean lets see this kid walk around in downtown NY and if he can navigate without a stick or a dog then yeah, he’s the real deal.

  • Reply August 3, 2007

    Anonymous

    he “sees” better than you do in a pitch black room, or out in the wilderness at midnight with no moon+overcast.

    On the other hand, I can tell the difference from a car and a trashcan way better than he can, and given a flashlight, and with even adim light source my vision can match his echolocation.

    Bats still do it better

  • Reply October 29, 2007

    Anonymous

    For those of you saying that you are better than him, you’re not. And for the person that said bats are better, they are able to do this naturally where as he had to teach himself how to do it.

  • Reply March 21, 2008

    Anonymous

    Sad how many of you are threatened by a blind kid…

  • Reply April 1, 2008

    Anonymous

    I saw the documentary on tv. It was really really cool. I never thought that people could do something like that.

  • Reply June 28, 2008

    Anonymous

    For the videogame, it all depends on what videogame you’re playing. He’s playing a fighting game, Dragonball Z it looks like. The characters probably autofocus on one another, so learning what attacks to use is simple enough. I seriously doubt he could play something like God of War, however. That truly is amazing. Marvelous indeed.

  • Reply July 10, 2008

    Anonymous

    I disagree with the idea that foosball cannot be played without sight. Foosballs make very clear noises when moving on a table, and aside from that you can feel the vibration of the ball moving around the table with your hands on the rods. Surely the best sighted foosball player in the world would beat a blind person, but I can easily see a lousy sighted foosball player losing to someone obviously as advanced as Ben in echolocation.

    Video games is another matter, he is certainly not using echolocation to play those games, he is using the sound generated by the games to play, which is not echolocation. The thing is many video games these days actually use very advanced stereo spatial sound location when programming the sound in games to give more realistic game ambience and experience. The question is if those are good enough to play the game alone? Maybe and maybe not, really depends on how well the sound was programmed and how unique every sound is made when an action is done. Ben would never beat someone at pong, the sound being mono and gives no indication the differences in any movement of where the ball or paddle is on screen. Today’s advanced 3D shooters or fighting games, there are probably tons of auditory clues we never knew or cared to know about, but he obviously has picked up on. Could he outplay the best of the best sighted players, probably not, but he still has fun and that’s just amazing.

  • Reply July 21, 2008

    Anonymous

    I have watched the documentary on Ben, on the TV. It is just incredible what he is capable of doing. I really salute Ben for his determination to be like anyone of us, ‘seeing’ people.

  • Reply September 9, 2008

    kokomoto

    to all those people who say they can do better, you cant. i’d like to see you go around for a week with no eyes and still be able to tell the difference between a car and a trashcan.

  • Reply September 11, 2008

    Scotty

    To those that think that this was a hoax I assure you it is not. I live a few miles away from Ben and have seen him around and he does navigate with echo. Although there are some limitations still to his ability it is still absolutly amazing. And talk about a kick-ass mom!

  • Reply November 2, 2008

    Jessamyn

    Since he is so good with using sound to find his way around a video game, and since sound differentiation is his specialty, maybe he should be employed as an Alpha or Beta tester for those games where the makers are aiming for realistic sound placement.

    …and many of your readers have the maturity level or a slug. >.< The boy is doing something abnormal and exceptional.

  • Reply January 25, 2009

    gretchencore

    he was on oprah if it matters at all. lol

  • Reply January 26, 2009

    geo

    It doesn’t, actually.

  • Reply January 26, 2009

    Kissycougar

    This boy is truly inspiring, I hope other challenged people can benefit from his example.

    My prayers go out to his family and friends, it is truly a tragic loss.

  • Reply January 26, 2009

    oni

    Too bad a young man with this ability has passed. He could have taught so many more people the capability to overcome things we often take for granted. God bless you Ben and your family.

  • Reply February 1, 2009

    Aurafox

    It’s so sad that he survived such a disease for so long and was claimed by it..

  • Reply February 15, 2009

    Lucy

    A lot of the people on here are awful, why are you trying to compete with this kid? He’s mind-blowing, as is his mum. All the best to his family, god bless. x

  • Reply February 19, 2009

    Renoir

    This is terrible, He has this outstanding gift from god.. Like he can see without eyes. And than it seems he has cancer thats just unfair. RIP Ben

  • Reply March 4, 2009

    Cassandra

    I am truly heartbroken by the news of Bens death. I am a mother of 6 and watched (with my children) his amazing abilities and attitude with wonder. All of the kids were inspired by this young man, as was I.

  • Reply April 5, 2009

    The Atomic

    astounding

  • Reply April 16, 2009

    If-an'-Whendy

    …sigh….
    I became convinced as a child that the world held no real wonder, the fairies in my backyard weren’t really there. And I wanted any such thing to be real and make this sterile world a more amazing and unexplainable place to be. as a child, I hadn’t yet been introduced to some of the true marvels that we are fortunate enough to live with these days. so many truly unique people are seen as something to be “fixed”.

    when i saw the video of Ben, my heart lept. simply incredible. at least, in this day and age we can understand the mechanics of how he sees…whereas in the past he might have been labeled as evil or some such nonsense.

    it is terrible that he wasn’t able to live out his life with his gift. and though i feel the slight tingle of the amazing touching my life again, the world will be just a little bit dimmer for his passing as it is whenever we lose the irreplaceable.

    and it makes me hate that “daredevil” movie with ben affleck even more.

  • Reply April 30, 2009

    Brent

    i came across another site where an individual actually teaches echolocation to blind people. I hope one day all blind people have the opportunity to take such courses. They deserve the freedom it allows. Perhaps the child in this video will start teaching classes and expand his schools throughout the world. I’d love to see that kind of success for him.

  • Reply April 30, 2009

    Brent

    I just read that Ben had passed. My condolences to his family.

  • Reply May 6, 2009

    Robyn

    Ben is a winner simply by overcoming the adversities that life lumbered him with. He went on despite his blindness. Many believe it was not possible….then what about Helen Keller? She was able to learn to communicate effectively despite being blind and deaf and went on to lead an inspiring life.

    Ask yourself this question…. how do you find your way around in the dark in the middle of the night? You learn to adapt to the conditions, you memorise in your mind.

    Well done Ben, it is the world’s loss that you are no longer with us but I know your family take comfort in knowing that you are in a far better place.

  • Reply May 24, 2009

    Lindsay

    I remember seeing him on tv a while ago. I had no idea he had passed away! It’s sad that he had such a short life when he was obviously an incredible and unique person.

  • Reply July 16, 2009

    Blackwing Rose

    The strength of Ben and is mother is truly amazing, and I think is a miracle that surpasses the echolocation talents he developed. It is truly heartbreaking that a boy with such a great attitude and character had died to very young.

    Excuse me while I go wipe my eyes.

  • Reply August 20, 2009

    Ashlynn

    i saw him on tv a few years ago, i thought it was really cool
    so sad that he died =’(

  • Reply November 1, 2009

    Mary

    Incredible! I know that blind people develop a heightened sense of hearing and smell to know their environment, but Ben was truly remarkable. RIP Ben

  • Reply November 11, 2009

    RunBay

    Poor guy! Had a lot of problems because of that cancer. Took hes eyes and him self :(

  • Reply January 23, 2010

    Desmond T. Destiny

    I’m disappointed the world is no longer graced with such a strong willed human. He should be remembered with respect and honor for his abilities not pity and empathy for his disabilities.

  • Reply January 23, 2010

    GLOW

    BEN WAS AN AMAZING YOUNG MAN!! HE DID NOT USE HIS “DISABILITY” AS AN EXCUSE FOR ANYTHING….ALL OF U WHO HAVE HAD NEGATIVE THINGS TO SAY ARE TRULY HELLBOUND BECAUSE YOU HAVE NEVER WALKED A DAY IN HIS SHOES…AND IF YOU LOST NOT ONE BUT BOTH OF YOUR EYES….WOULD U REALLY BE ABLE TO KEEP IT TOGETHER..THINK ABOUT IT!!!!!
    I AM DEEPLY SORRY AND EXPRESS MY DEEPEST SMPATHY TO HIS FAMILY…MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL!

  • Reply February 18, 2010

    Yolanda

    That was truly amazing, that he managed to learn himself that. A very remarkable, strong-willed human being. The world is lesser for his loss.

  • Reply June 15, 2010

    agustin antunez

    What Ben put in front of our eyes is that we all have a powerful tool which we use unconsciously. When you try to feel echolocation in your everyday life, you will be amazed of the results. It’s so evident, that you wonder how our abstract-prone society had denied our more basic sensorial tools. “The body was sin”. The classrooms are “deprivated-sensorial-spaces”. Take the best of 21 century Neurosciences: Abduction, Mirror Neurons, Echolocation, Adult Neural reproduction. They will help you in your own process of sensorial re-empowerment. Thanks Ben!

  • Reply July 23, 2010

    LAT

    As one person put it, it’s amazing how many are threatened by this kid and his amazing ability. God bless you Ben, you truly were incredible. I hope God allows you to see all you could ever dream of in heaven.

  • Reply August 17, 2010

    bong

    This kid is amazing, he is almost like the comic superhero Daredevil.
    It’s not just his ears but his mind.
    To be able to differentiate the ranges of sound and associate this to objects in an environment and give them a relative spatial position to where he is requires
    a lot of mental ability.
    He could’ve grownup and and made a career teaching other people without sight this ability.
    Im really saddened that he passed away, the world is so much less without him.

  • Reply October 4, 2010

    Aquanetta

    My name is Aquanetta and I am the mother of Ben Alonzo Underwood. I know his abilities to most of us were completely amazing or unbelievable, however, if you knew Ben you would know that what Ben was able to do was supernatural. What Ben did for our human understanding was call echolocation. What you all don’t know about Ben is that he would meditate on Jesus Christ and he said, “Mom when my spirit is intuned I can see” Ben could describe people, things, and much much more. Ben is a true child of the King and he had to go home. I thank God for all of those who love Ben and were touched by his life. I even thank God for those who were threatened by Ben and pray that if they received anything from Ben’s example just know that there are absolutely no impossiblities. People get ready, Ben is not done I am writing a book and screenplay for a feature film of the true life of Ben Underwood. May God Bless all of his creation.

  • Reply October 14, 2010

    lisa

    I am truely touched and inspired by the life of Ben Underwood. I am very glad his mother will write a book about Ben’s life so I can share it with my children. I believe our children need to know anything is possible so they can continue to accomplish their dreams. And Ms. Aquanetta, I strongly believe Ben was used by God, to show the sighted population that Jesus is real.

  • Reply March 6, 2011

    Anonymous

    Truely amazing.

  • Reply June 19, 2011

    DaziRazi

    He sounds like he was an amazing young boy

  • [...] one blind teenager actually beats video games using [...]

  • Reply August 23, 2011

    Tim Johnson

    Ben was my inspiration for creating my blog on the exploration, speculation and revelations on echolocation by a seeing person.
    I’ve been documenting my learning process and my study of echolocation for several years. I can’t wait to see the book and screenplay you are developing Aquanetta. Thank you.

  • Reply December 20, 2011

    Amazed

    Oh my gosh.

    He’s like Toph (from A:TLA) then! OoO A real-life Toph! EPIC!

  • Echolocation is a truly amazing skill and it is far more accessible than people think. I’m doing the best I can do conduct research and learn echolocation in order to help others, both seeing and blind to utilize this skill.
    It’s a profound ability of our kind and as a lifelong martial artist, I am committed to understanding all that mankind can do. I hope to help in making echolocation more accessible to everyone and will soon be publishing a training kit to teach echolocation in a simple, comprehensive package. Check out my blog to learn more about this project.

    • Reply April 20, 2012

      J Tithonus Pednaud

      I agree, it is a remarkable skill.

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