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Acoustic Tractor Beam Manipulates Floating Objects With Sound

Sound Wave

A team of scientists in the United Kingdom and Spain have created a device that can not only levitate small objects, but manipulate them while they’re floating in the air — a feat which the acoustic tractor beam accomplishes with the assistance of high-frequency sound waves.

While the technology to levitate objects is nothing necessarily new, as ultrasound levitation devices were already in existence prior to the development of the team’s new device, it is the first to employ a technique which relies on sound waves located only on one side of the manipulated object.

Asier Marzo with the Public University of Navarre in Spain, the study’s leader, was quoted by as having explained that the new technique is like a “laser” in comparison to earlier levitation devices. Subsequently, it can levitate particles “with a single beam.”

All previous levitators had to surround the particle with acoustic elements, which was cumbersome for some kind of manipulations (…) Our technique, however, only requires sound waves from one side. It’s like a laser—you can levitate particles, but with a single beam.

The team published the findings of their study in the journal Nature Communications. The study was accepted by the journal for publication in September and published on October 27, 2015.

The researchers noted in their study’s abstract that single-beam levitation technology could be used in containerless transportation or to “manipulate particles inside our body for applications in targeted drug delivery or acoustically controlled micro-machines that do not interfere with magnetic resonance imagine.”

In order to pull of its incredible feat, the proof of concept device created by the team emits sound precisely timed sound wave sequences that establish a low pressure region, trapping objects which can then be manipulated.

In regards to the device’s ability to turn sound waves into a tractor beam for small objects, study co-author and mechanical engineer Bruce Drinkwater with the University of Bristol in the U.K. told Live Science that it was just a matter of “harnessing” the “force of sound” that one might experience at a rock concert.

We’ve all experienced the force of sound — if you go to a rock concert, not only do you hear it, but you can sometimes feel your innards being moved (…) It’s a question of harnessing that force.

What are your thoughts on the implications of the team’s newly developed tractor beam technology?

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