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The DolphinView headset lets you ‘see’ like your favorite sea creature

But you’ll have to build it yourself

Wearing DolphinView
Photo by A. Freitag

The good news: a headset exists that helps you “see” like a dolphin. The bad news: you’ll have to build this “DolphinView” headset yourself. The other good news: it’s not too complicated or expensive, at least according to its inventor, Andrew David Thaler, an ecologist and the editor-in-chief of conservation site Southern Fried Science.

First, the dolphin science: dolphins have excellent eyesight, but they are also able to navigate using echolocation. Essentially, they make clicks using a fatty part of the jaw called the melon. These clicks bounce off of objects around them and sound different depending on where the object is. The dolphin then uses its jaw to interpret this information to figure out what’s happening.

To make DolphinView headset, Thaler used a simple LIDAR unit to create a system that pulses when an object gets closer. But how do you get these pulses to the jaw?

The closest we paltry, melon-less humans can get to echolocation is probably bone-conducting headphones. Sound is a vibration, and bone-conducting headphones use speakers or tiny motors to send vibrations directly to the top of your jaw and into your inner ear and brain. As The Verge’s James Vincent wrote in a review: “This. Feels. Strange.”

So Thaler connected the LIDAR to bone-conduction headphones. You can find instructions on GitHub and Thingiverse. The materials cost less than $100, and the code is “barely 15 lines,” though you do have to combine a few components.

Photo by Andrew Thaler

Thaler writes that it took a while to get used to the sensory overload of the constant drum clicks. It’s not a super powerful system, and there’s a slight delay. But still, he writes, “walking around, you definitely do start building up a sense of what all the clicks mean, and with a little practice, you can easily pick out things like open doorways with your eyes closed.”

To be fair, we don’t know enough about dolphins to say that this is exactly how they “see.” But the concept is solid and, come on, who doesn’t want to experience a new way of seeing the world?