Tractor beam created using ultrasonic waves

27 Oct 2015

The tractor beam can move tiny objects through the air

Scientists in Spain have claimed they have created a sonic tractor beam that can grab tiny objects and move them around in the air.

As opposed to trapping spaceships like in Star Wars, the team from the Public University of Navarre believes that it can use the tractor beam technology for capturing micro-surgical instruments that get trapped in bodies during surgeries or precision drug delivery.

Writing in Nature Communications the researchers elaborate on how they used ultrasound to move tiny polystyrene beads in the air.

How tractor beam technology works

The scientists made a tractor beam by using an array of flat speakers to produce acoustic holograms and by carefully adjusting sound waves created holograms that worked like 3D tweezers, cages or rotating spirals to lift and spin objects in the air.

“Acoustic structures shaped as tweezers, twisters or bottles emerge as the optimum mechanisms for tractor beams or containerless transportation,” they wrote.

“Single-beam levitation could manipulate particles inside our body for applications in targeted drug delivery or acoustically controlled micro-machines that do not interfere with magnetic resonance imaging.

This is the latest development in a movement by scientists to create tractor beam systems.

Last year, researchers at the Australian National University created a hollow beam they dubbed the “Holy Grail” for laser physicists that can repel and attract objects.

And last month it emerged that scientists at NASA were  hoping to develop a tractor beam system that could manipulate a satellite’s movements using magnetic fields.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years