Ultrasonic Tractor Beam Created by British Scientists

/ 3 years ago

An acoustic hologram used to generate a tractor beam

In a revelation straight out of a science fiction movie, a collaborative effort between teams of researchers from the University of Bristol and Sussex have successfully created and demonstrated a working ‘tractor beam’ using ultrasonic sound.

To those who don’t know, a tractor beam is a mysterious beam that can grab and manipulate objects with no physical contact. Usually reserved for the likes of Star Trek, tractor beams are one of many sci-fi technologies that have captured the imagination of scientists around the world. And now this fantasy for many has become a reality.

This is the first instance of a tractor beam that is able to function outside of a lab environment, and while technology to move objects using sound waves has existed for some time, it has always been in an impractical fashion, with most methods of lifting and manipulating objects requiring speakers to be positioned all around the object. The new technique utilizes a set of 64 miniature speakers, controlled individually, that output high-intensity sound to surround objects in an effect termed an “acoustic hologram”. These acoustic holograms are formed in different shapes in order to levitate objects in place, move and rotate them, as shown in the video below. Currently, the limitation is the small-scale, with the current hardware only being able to manipulate an pea-sized objects, but even on this scale, the system could be used for many things and with this breakthrough, the motivation will hopefully be to make it useful in the real world.

I can’t help but wonder which sci-fi technology will be realized next. Afterall, we already have hoverboards on the horizon. Let us know what you are hoping for in the comments below!

For interested readers, the findings have been published to to Nature Communications which can be found here.

Image source


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