Echolocation in 3D Print: How Do We Look to Dolphins?

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UntitledAt this point you’ve seen everything 3D printed except for maybe your right big toe, but of course, that’s probably in development too. Plenty of outrageous concepts have been translated into 3D at this point, including that of audio, from memories preserved in sound to actual sculptures made from soundwaves. Definitely known as a more intellectual type of design coming from the 3D printer, so far we’ve seen and heard only from those dwelling on land. But certainly the sights and sounds of the ocean are far more full of mystique and even beauty.


Jack Kassewitz

That was precisely what Jack Kassewitz and his team at SpeakDolphin were thinking as they embarked on a magnificent journey into the world of some our most fascinating mammals and their communication through echolocation.

Enlisting John Stuart Reid, inventor of the CymaScope, to search for sonic images in dolphin recordings, they then attempted to translate what dolphins ‘see’ into 3D print. They now have actually made the first 3D prints ever, from recorded dolphin echolocation.

Working from facilities in both Miami and the UK, the researchers have created a unique process which allows them to record as well as isolate dolphin echolocation sounds on objects. Taking the 2D to 3D with photo analysis, they are then able to 3D print the images.

For the researchers, success, and the tangible results have been a long time coming. And the first images should be of great interest to all of us, as they are 3D prints of people–depicting how they are seen through echolocation.

“We’ve been working on dolphin communication for more than a decade,” stated Jack Kassewitz, research team leader and founder of “When we discovered that dolphins not exposed to the echolocation experiment could identify objects from recorded dolphin sounds with 92% accuracy, we began to look for a way for to see what was in those sounds.”

Using Reid’s CymaScope patented process, they were able to imprint the actual sonic vibrations and resulting images on the surface of ultra-pure water. The team believes that this sound travels in ‘holographic bubbles and beams.’ According to SpeakDolphin, at frequencies audible to humans (20 Hertz to 20,000 Hertz) the sound-bubble form dominates; above 20,000 Hertz the shape of sound becomes increasingly beam shaped, similar to a lighthouse beam in appearance.

UntitledThe ‘CymaGlyphs’ represent dolphin picture words, further representing the theory that dolphins are so evolved that they can translate ‘dimensional information’ from their echolocation. These 3D printed patterns may indeed show us a good representation of what they perceive from their returning sounds beams, as well as those of communication dolphins within their ‘society.’

“When a dolphin scans an object with its high frequency sound beam, each short click captures a still image, similar to a camera taking photographs,” explains Reid. “Each dolphin click is a pulse of pure sound that becomes modulated by the shape of the object.”

“Whenever sound bubbles or beams interact with a membrane, the sound vibrations imprint onto its surface and form a CymaGlyph, a repeatable pattern of energy. The CymaScope employs the surface tension of water as a membrane because water reacts quickly and is able to reveal intricate architectures within the sound form. These fine details can be captured on camera.”

The process is a little mind-boggling perhaps, but the results are truly stunning. In his first trials with the process, Reid was able to capture images of a flowerpot, a cube, a plastic “+” symbol, and a human being. Seeing the potential in his results, he requested assistance from the team at 3D Systems who were able to help him transfer his data to a .vrml file that he could then 3D print, and fully retain all the characteristics of his original Cymascope images. With the 3DS Projet 660 printer, the models were produced expediently and in full color. 3D Systems’ Design Director, Scott Summit, discussed the process briefly at Inside 3D Printing Santa Clara, touching on how 3D printing allowed the team to “hack” dolphins.

“We were thrilled by the first successful print of a cube by the brilliant team at 3D Systems,” said Kassewitz. “But seeing the 3D print of a human being left us all speechless. For the first time ever, we may be holding in our hands a glimpse into what cetaceans see with sound. Nearly every experiment is bringing us more images with more detail.”


Human as Ecolocation, from SpeakDolphin

It’s also very exciting to hear that the project probably won’t stop there, as the researchers now want to delve further into the multi-layered and highly sophisticated communication of dolphins and find out how they share ‘sono-pictorial language.’

A TV documentary is also in the works regarding the 3D printing of echolocation by these researchers.

“The scientific rigor and ingenuity that took Kassewitz’s team from visual communication experiments to a 3D print of a human being is mind blowing,” says award-winning filmmaker Michael Watchulonis, who is part of the team developing the film (with David Albareda of Devised TV). “It’s a story filled with twists and turns and eureka moments on their mission to connect with some of our planet’s most intelligent creatures. We can’t wait to bring it to the screen.”

We may have not seen anything so groundbreaking since famed ocean explorer Jacque Cousteau began extensive studies of the world of the dolphin, with incredible stories of their organized, social behavior and language. Kassewitz has great vision regarding further progress on all levels:

“I believe that people around the world would love the opportunity to speak with a dolphin. And I feel certain that dolphins would love the chance to speak with us—if for no other reason than self-preservation. During my times in the water with dolphins, there have been several occasions when they seemed to be very determined to communicate with me. We are getting closer to making that possible.”

Kassewitz has also published, along with other tomes on animals, a book available on Amazon, called Speak Dolphin: Decipering the Dolphin Code. Chapter 10 outlines ‘3D Discovery Unveiled,’ for those who want to read further on this current subject.  Discuss this story in the Echolocation forum on

SpeakDolphin, founded in Miami in 2000, is a non-profit organization operated by Jack Kassewitz and his wife, Donna. Their goal is to significantly expand communication between dolphins and humans.


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