What does ︎ mean to a bat?

A virtual reality experience of being a bat in Time Square using echolocation.

Category: VR
Made in: 2020 Spring

Unity, Cinema4D, Vuforia, Oculus Rift

Marina Zurkow,
Sarah Rothberg


What Does ︎ Mean To A Bat? is a part of an on-going artistic research project A Look At Looking (through not looking), which examines how human’s perceived realities have been mordenized by spectacle through vision-based experience.



Our living experiences have been reconfigured by ubiquitous digital contents in hypermedia spaces. I wanted to explore what it is like for another being to experience a human-made hypermedia space that is saturated with symbols, signs and spectacles.

Inspired by Thomas Nagel’s essay What is it like to be a bat?, I chose bat as the metaphor. Bat shares a similar cognitive mechanism as human beings but has a very distinctive biological construction and perceptual experience.  Bats are mammals, and are assumed to have conscious experience. It is a highly evolved animal who actively uses biological sensors just like human beings. Bats mainly use echolocation to navigate and perceive objects.

Through this experience, I hope to let people experience our human-made world from another being’s perspective, and reflect on how our human experience is just one kind of experiences in nature.

“Echolocation affords an individual with the unique ability to produce the energy that ‘excites’ the world around them.”
--- Schörnich, Nagy & Wiegrebe, 2012


It is a semi-narrative, semi-interactive experience. User will follow a bat’s voice-over narration through out the experience, and interact with the environment through echolocation.

There are three chapters in this experience:

Chapter I. Born To Be A Bat
It’s a scene where the bat is born ---  a cave and a park. Users will feel being a bat in the nature, learn how to echolcate, fly and eat moths

Chapter II. Apple Tree
In this animated scene, the bat will have a conversation with the Universe about its previous life as a human in its dream.

Chapter III. Looking for an Apple
In this scene, users will wonder around Time Square, trying to look for the hint from the Universe about its previous life as a human.

The narration style is inspired by Jim Trainor’s animation The Bats.

Visual Design

The visual style is based on the research of bat’s perception.

Bats have a cross-modal perception, which means they dynamically switch between the modalities. It uses vision for large objects domain and echolocation for small objects domain. 

I intended to represent these two modes of perception using different visual language.

Bat’s Visual Perception
Bat has dichromatic colour vision and UV vision. It can see things especially under dim light environment.

Bat’s Echolocationg Perception
When a bat is echolocating, it construct streams of sound data into real-time acoustic-image motion pictures, which is similar to LIDAR scanning.

Artistic Visual Reference for echolocating perception


Vision Perception
Sensitive to light

Echolocating Perception
Point cloud as acoustic-image in brain
Players ‘activate’ the point cloud with sound
Sound wave travels


In this experience, users will perceive and interact with the environment through echolocating, and move around through flying. 

Echolocation simulation
User makes sound to activate the environment. When users make sound, they will hear bat chirping in their headset as their “voice”.

The bat’s sonar beam can be likened to an auditory flashlight. There are two variables controlling the “echolocating” effects:
  • The higher pitch, the narrower “field of view” but the more points be acitvated
  • The higher volume, the more points to be activated


Fly simulation
User move hands towards the desired direction to fly.


While player will perceive through bat’s senses, audience without headsets will see the human-version of the view on the screen.

Player’s View

Audience’s view
@2023 wenjing liu