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Ankita Katdare
Ankita Katdare • Oct 27, 2015

World’s First Sonic Tractor Beam Moves Objects Using Sound Waves

Science fiction writers come up with theories that are years later turned into reality and one such theory is that of 'Tractor Beams' - a term coined by sci-fi author E. E. Smith, which has been brought to life by researchers at University of Bristol and Sussex along with folks over at a company called UltraHaptics. Together the team has developed the world's first sonic tractor beam that can not only lift but also move objects in thin air using sound waves.

The concept of 'tractor beams' was heavily used in the popular movie series Star Trek, where a target was placed in the focus of a subspace interference pattern created by two beams coming from an emitter. This target could be moved by changing the beam's polarity.

Engineers and Scientists all over the world have always been fascinated with the concept of tractor beams - the mysterious rays that can lift and move objects.

Well, it turns out that, Bristol University researchers have become successful in building an actual tractor beam that makes use of high-amplitude sound waves to create an acoustic hologram that can pick up and move small objects.

The researchers had an amazing experience when they finally achieved their results aka an object held in one place by a tractor beam. The team has been able to control the sound waves at an unprecedented level.

Not only does the team's technique manipulate objects suspended in air, they also seem to defy gravity. They control several dozen loud speakers individually so that an acoustic hologram is created to manipulate different objects in real-time without any physical contact.

In their experiments, the researchers used 64 tiny loudspeakers that create high-intensity, high-pitch sound waves. The tractor beam surrounds the object which has a high-intensity sound and therefore creates a force field that holds the object in its place. By controlling the sound waves, the team could rotate, move or hold the object almost instantly.

Until now, the sonic tractor beam has been able to move objects up to about 1/7th of an inch i.e. 4 mm in diameter. An ultrasound of 40 kHz frequency was used to achieve this.

The team has demonstrated that there are 3 different types of acoustic force fields that can work as tractor beams. They are -
  1. An acoustic force field that looks just like a pair of fingers or tweezers.
  2. An acoustic vortex where the objects are stuck-in and trapped at the core.
  3. A high-intensity cage that envelopes an object and holds it in place from all directions.
Take a look at the demonstration video here -

The applications of this kind of technology are enormous. For instance, a sonic production line could be built that transports and assembles delicate objects without human intervention via touch. Medical field can also benefit. For example - tractor beams can hold and carry micro surgical instruments or even drug capsules through an actual living tissue.

What are your thoughts about the world's first tractor beam technology? Share with us in comments below.

Source: Bristol University

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