A Real Life Tractor Beam Uses Sound - But Will it Work in Space?

A Real Life Tractor Beam Uses Sound - But Will it Work in Space?

Scientists have invented a tractor beam, able to move and manipulate small objects using sound waves.

Tractor beams are a sci-fi staple. It's as though you can't buy a spaceship in the future without it coming pre-equipped with a built-in tractor beam, for bringing in pesky rebel vessels or dangerous alien objects. It is, perhaps, an over-used plot device - and yet it's one that today's scientists haven't been able to replicate, until now.

Researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Sussex, along with collaborators Ultrahaptics, have built an honest-to-goodness tractor beam, using sonic waves to lift, pull, and manipulate objects in the air.

Published in Nature Communications, the scientists involved in the project foresee a number of different uses for the sci-fi tech. One could use these beams to move and assemble fine, delicate objects on an assembly line; you could transport drug capsules, or microsurgical equipment through blood vessels.

Anyone who has stood next to a loudspeaker at a concert, or placed sand on one, can tell you that sound waves are easily capable of moving physical objects. Bruce Drinkwater, Professor of Ultrasonics in the University of Bristol's Department of Mechanical Engineering, explains what makes this technology so much more impressive: "We all know that sound waves can have a physical effect. But here we have managed to control the sound to a degree never previously achieved."

Indeed, you can catch a video at Phys.org of one such item being moved to and fro, contained within a hand of sound.

One possible area in which the admittedly incredible technology cannot be used, it seems, is in the theatre that spawned the idea in the first place: space. Sound has no means to propagate in a vacuum, so the dream of using one of these sonic tractor beams to capture objects out in the black is a no-go, for now.

That won't stop the dreaming, though! Life imitates art, after all, and we've already got our monkey borg - tractor beams are surely next on somebody's list.

Source: Phys.org

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I'll go ahead and posit the obvious: This + Ongoing development of visual holography = Holodecks?

How big of an object are we talking about? Could I use this to grab the remote sitting on the table?

Xeorm:
How big of an object are we talking about? Could I use this to grab the remote sitting on the table?

THIS is the kind of question that I demand science provide an answer to! :D

If it's a sound, it's not a beam, though, is it?

Why is nobody commenting on the most interesting part of this story?

The professor's name is Drinkwater. DRINK WATER

thaluikhain:
If it's a sound, it's not a beam, though, is it?

Begs the question, really: Does a sonic force compressed and focused in a particular direction still make it a wave or is it a sonic flipping screwdriver now?

thaluikhain:
If it's a sound, it's not a beam, though, is it?

Considering the fact that light is a wave, I wouldn't say something being a wave precludes it from being a beam.

actually tractor beam is nothing new. its just that the technology we have for tractor beams currently would require a massive amount of energy for very little traction relative to other methods so they are not practical.

The Almighty Aardvark:
Why is nobody commenting on the most interesting part of this story?

The professor's name is Drinkwater. DRINK WATER

its actually quite fascinating how many strange names are there in the physics community. it looks like almost every time escapists writes about something like this it is invented by a professor with a funny name. though i admit Drink Water is one of the best ones.

Xeorm:
How big of an object are we talking about? Could I use this to grab the remote sitting on the table?

So we COULD be Jedi using the force to pull the remote or beer can to us? The only difference is this force is technological rather than biological.

 

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