Acoustic Tractor Beam Is Real. Star Trek Is One Step Closer

Must. Resist. Millennium Falcon. And STAR TREK. Jokes…LOW…HANGING…FRUIT…

Look, considering that a Public University of Navarre research team in Spain have successfully implemented ultrasonic acoustic holograms in a working tractor beam to levitate small particles, you’ll pardon us if it’s all we can do not to fearfully mutter, “That’s no moon…” or demand to no one in particular, “Beam me up!” – AH, HELL.

Well, now that the burden of fan-service is lifted, some explanation is in order. The team’s research could represent a powerful breakthrough in exerting force on tangible matter with ultrasonic waves. Sure, for years upon years, holograms have used changing perspectives and parallax cues to create images carrying off the illusion of depth while emerging from flat surfaces. Diffracting photons through a holographic plate’s interference pattern creates the three-dimensional light field that makes that impression so convincing.

What has now been accomplished is something different entirely. Researchers aimed two ultrasound emitter arrays at a reflector to form a single standing wave between the elements. Particles can move along one axis when the wave phase varies and moves the nodes. Think of it akin to the transport beams in PORTAL 2 that push objects in a single direction from one source to another.

It gets better. By arranging 10mm transducers in a single 20 x 20 ultrasonic phased array, they can generate 40 kilohertz ultrasonic sound waves that can be manipulated into what amounts to 3D objects made of sound. A holographic lens is generated by the waves themselves and the array’s holographic sound-wave “signature” defines the structure around the focal point that gives them shape. When the two combined, a certain pattern can now “trap” polystyrene particles up to three milimeters in diameter.

The array can control not only the objects’ orientations, but their positions. It can even manipulate several objects simultaneously.

“That’s all well and good,” you may be saying, “but what can it actually ‘do’?” Well, for starters, scientists are already considering possibilities beyond just using sound and manipulated particles to create tangile “objects”. Here’s a question to ponder, for example: what if these ultrasonic acoustic tractor beams could be directed beneath a human being’s skin to shift small objects from kidney stones to drug capsules, even vital micro-surgical instruments? It all depends on how powerful the transducers can become, but we know this much now: it indeed works in both theory and smaller-scale practice.

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Source – IEEE

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