Brits invent Star Trek tractor beam

1413849918201_wps_10_Star_Trek_Tractor_BeamBritish researchers have built a sonic tractor beams that can lift and move objects using sound.

Boffins from the University of Bristol and Sussex,teamed up with Ultrahaptics, a spin-off set up by Sussex Professor of Informatics, Sriram Subramanian. The technology, used high-amplitude soundwaves to generate an acoustic hologram that can pick up and move small objects.

According to the popular science magazine  Nature Communications the device allows the manipulation of small spherical objects in mid-air by individually controlling 64 miniature loudspeakers to generate the acoustic hologram without physical contact.

The speakers are controlled at a frequency of 40 kilohertz  creating high-pitched and high-intensity sound waves to levitate spherical, expanded polystyrene beads of up to 4 millimeters in diameter.

The tractor beam surrounds the balls with high-intensity sound to create a force field that can keep the beads in place, move them or rotate them.  It has been dubbed an acoustic hologram, which sounds like a good name for a 1970’s jazz band.

Previous examples of tractor beam technology have involved using light. It was a very powerful focalized laser and it was able to trap the particles and move it towards the laser, towards the source. The downside of this was the particles had to be very small.

An acoustic tractor beam, acoustic manipulation, needs much less power and it’s more powerful in terms of the materials that it can trap.

The next plan is to lift a beach ball  ten meters away and we think this could be useful for zero gravity environments, like under water or in the International Space Station. I

A sonic production line could transport delicate objects and assemble them, without physical contact. But the Bristol researcher’s main goal is the revolution of surgery, with a miniature tractor beam transporting drug capsules or micro-surgical instruments through living tissue.