TECH
28/10/2015 09:59 GMT

This 'Star Trek' Style Tractor Beam Can Hold Objects Using 'Holograms' Made Of Sound

Engineers in Bristol have found a way to suspend a physical object in thin air using nothing more than a 'hologram' of ultrasonic sound waves.

Essentially, they've created what we know in the realms of science fiction as, a tractor beam.

tractor beam

The ability to manipulate objects without physical contact has been something that engineers and scientists have dreamed of and indeed on a subatomic level, they've actually had some success.

Now though, a team have been able to take an object the size of a pea and suspend it around 40cm into the air using nothing but a complex array of 64 speakers.

So how does it work? Well the process is actually quite simple: You take a 'quiet' piece of space and within it you use an array of ultra-precise speakers to project ultrasonic sound waves in the direction of the object you'd like to control.

The speakers then create essentially an invisible 'hologram' of sound which can actually pick up the object and then move it around.

Imagine if you will an invisible 'hand' made out sound, the engineers can then program that 'hand' to pick up the object and move it around in front of the array.

What makes this breakthrough so special is that it only requires an array on one side. Whereas before this form of sound manipulation has required speakers to be all around the object the engineers have devised a way to create a single one-sided platform.

One of the coolest features of this new technology is that it can be used upside down, meaning the platform can both push and pull objects away and towards it.

tractor beam

Sadly due to the lack of sound in space this tractor beam won't be pulling any ships out of orbit anytime soon.

One of the study's authors Prof Bruce Drinkwater from the University of Bristol explained to the BBC how the team wanted to make their technology more relevant to the general public.

"We wanted to demonstrate that we could do it upside down. We had a discussion and we thought that everyone thinks of a tractor beam as people being sucked up into space.

So we mounted the array upside-down in a cardboard UFO, and the particle gets sucked up into it."

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While the technology can't be used in space (no sound), the hope is that in future their technology can be used in medical science either in the field of drug delivery systems or in the operating theatre.