Tractor beams of science fiction becoming a reality


  • TECH
  • Thursday, 29 Oct 2015

Within the realm of possibility: Two polystyrene beads (approximately 3mm in diameter) are trapped inside an invisible acoustic hologram generated from a flat array of miniature loudspeakers (40Khz), in this handout photo.

WASHINGTON: The tractor beam, a staple of science fiction including Star Wars and Star Trek that is employed to grab spaceships and other things remotely, is entering the realm of reality. 

Researchers said they have developed a tractor beam that uses high-amplitude sound waves to levitate, move and rotate small objects without making contact with them. They envisioned medical and other applications for the device. 

"As a mechanical wave, sound can exert significant forces on objects. Just remember the last time you were in a concert and your chest was vibrating with the music," said study lead author Asier Marzo of Britain's University of Bristol and Spain's Public University of Navarre. 

Marzo said this sonic tractor beam has manipulated objects up to about one-seventh of an inch (4 mm) in diameter and can control the position and orientation of the levitated objects. 

The tractor beam uses ultrasound at a frequency of 40 kilohertz. People can hear only below 20 kilohertz. 

The researchers used sound waves from 64 miniature loudspeakers called transducers to create what they called "acoustic holograms" to control an object without touching it. These waves took the form of tweezers to lift an object, a vortex to hold a levitating object in place and a cage to surrounds an object and hold it in place. 

"A simple wave will just push the particle in the direction of propagation. However, multiple waves will interfere with each other and create complex, acoustic 3D shapes that exert forces from all directions and keep the particle in place," Marzo said. 

Marzo said the largest object moved using the device was a 4 mm bead made of a light plastic called polystyrene. 

"With special high-power transducers it would be possible to levitate even steel balls," Marzo said. 

Marzo described possible medical applications. 

"Sound cannot travel through the void of space but it can do it through water or human tissue. This potentially enables the manipulation of clots, kidney stones, drug capsules, microsurgical instruments or cells inside our body without any incision," Marzo said. 

More powerful sonic tractor beams capable of levitating bigger objects from greater distances could control objects floating adrift in zero-gravity environments like inside the International Space Station, Marzo said. 

The research, which also involved researchers at Sussex University and a British company called Ultrahaptics, was published in the journal Nature Communications. — Reuters

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 1
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
   

Next In Tech News

Fisker to supply up to 700 vehicles to UK-based Onto in 2023
U.S. lawmakers urge Facebook to drop Instagram for kids plan
Product warranty startup Extend raises $260 million, SoftBank leads funding
Buyers beware as "altcoin" frenzy bruises bitcoin
French broadcasters close ranks with anti-Netflix merger
Biden administration eyes cybersecurity funding after hacks
Mobileye, ZF team on advanced safety systems for Toyota
Toyota to halt production at two plants due to chip shortage
Gamestop, AMC short sellers sit on nearly $1 billion loss - Ortex
IBM to acquire Salesforce partner Waeg

Stories You'll Enjoy


Vouchers