Sonic tractor beam invented (w/ Video)

October 27, 2015
The research team has created three-dimensional acoustic fields with shapes such as fingers, twisters and cages. These acoustic fields are the first acoustic holograms that can exert forces on particles to levitate and manipulate them. Credit: : Image courtesy of Asier Marzo, Bruce Drinkwater and Sriram Subramanian, (c) 2015

A team of researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Sussex in collaboration with Ultrahaptics have built the world's first sonic tractor beam that can lift and move objects using sound waves.

Tractor beams are mysterious rays that can grab and lift objects. The concept has been used by science-fiction writers, and programmes like Star Trek, but has since come to fascinate scientists and engineers. Researchers have now built a working tractor beam that uses high-amplitude sound waves to generate an acoustic hologram which can pick up and move small objects.

The technique, published in Nature Communications, could be developed for a wide range of applications, for example a sonic production line could transport delicate objects and assemble them, all without physical contact. On the other hand, a miniature version could grip and transport drug capsules or microsurgical instruments through living tissue.

Asier Marzo, PhD student and the lead author, said: "It was an incredible experience the first time we saw the object held in place by the tractor beam. All my hard work has paid off, it's brilliant."

Bruce Drinkwater, Professor of Ultrasonics in the University of Bristol's Department of Mechanical Engineering, added: "We all know that sound waves can have a physical effect. But here we have managed to control the sound to a degree never previously achieved."

Sriram Subramanian, Professor of Informatics at the University of Sussex and co-founder of Ultrahaptics, explained: "In our device we manipulate objects in mid-air and seemingly defy gravity. Here we individually control dozens of loudspeakers to tell us an optimal solution to generate an acoustic hologram that can manipulate multiple objects in real-time without contact."

Holograms are tridimensional light-fields that can be projected from a two-dimensional surface. We have created acoustic holograms with shapes such as tweezers, twisters and cages that exert forces on particles to levitate and manipulate them. Credit: Image courtesy of Asier Marzo, Bruce Drinkwater and Sriram Subramanian, copyright © 2015.

The researchers used an array of 64 miniature loudspeakers to create high-pitch and high-intensity . The tractor beam works by surrounding the object with high-intensity sound and this creates a force field that keeps the objects in place. By carefully controlling the output of the loudspeakers the object can be either held in place, moved or rotated.

The team have shown that three different shapes of acoustic force fields work as . The first is an acoustic force field that resembles a pair of fingers or tweezers. The second is an acoustic vortex, the objects becoming stuck-in and then trapped at the core and the third is best described as a high-intensity cage that surrounds the objects and holds them in place from all directions.

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Acoustic holograms are projected from a flat surface and contrary to traditional holograms, they exert considerable forces on the objects contained within. The acoustic holograms can be updated in real-time to translate, rotate and combine levitated particles enabling unprecedented contactless manipulators such as tractor beams. Credit: Asier Marzo, Bruce Drinkwater and Sriram Subramanian, copyright © 2015

Previous work on acoustic studies had to surround the object with loudspeakers, which limits the extent of movement and restricts many applications. Last year, the University of Dundee presented the concept of a tractor beam but no objects were held in the ray.

Explore further: Researchers build acoustic tractor beam

More information: DOI: 10.1038/ncomms9661

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14 comments

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krundoloss
1 / 5 (3) Oct 27, 2015
So the particles are being held in place and manipulated by the interaction of pressure waves in the air. So this is basically I really high tech version of a beach ball hovering over a large fan (using the Bernoulli effect instead of acoustic suspension). I like that that are making progress, and able to so precisely control and model the complex interaction of sound waves from multiple speakers. Is it possible to create a new type of flying technology, where acoustic waves are controlled precisely to move a vehicle?
docile
Oct 27, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Lischyn
5 / 5 (5) Oct 27, 2015
No, this is not a Bernoulli effect. Bernoulli requires a huge mass of moving air. AFAIK, the air is not moving with this concept other than creating pressure pockets. I don't think it is possible to create a flying machine with this.
mikael_murstam
5 / 5 (5) Oct 27, 2015
So the particles are being held in place and manipulated by the interaction of pressure waves in the air. So this is basically I really high tech version of a beach ball hovering over a large fan (using the Bernoulli effect instead of acoustic suspension). I like that that are making progress, and able to so precisely control and model the complex interaction of sound waves from multiple speakers. Is it possible to create a new type of flying technology, where acoustic waves are controlled precisely to move a vehicle?


No this is acoustic suspension. They are building a high pressure "hologram" to keep it in place. The tractor beam part isn't really new. It simply sits in a node.
krundoloss
5 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2015
The process, called "acoustic levitation," has a history that dates back to the 1940s. It is the technique of using ultrasonic speakers to create changes in air pressure, moving some air molecules closer together and others further apart. When an object is placed at a certain point within a sound wave, the force of gravity is counteracted by the force exerted by the sound wave, trapping the object in the sound waves' valleys and crests.

But in the end, you are using air pressure to make something float, just like be Bernoulli effect. I was just drawing parallels.
antigoracle
1.4 / 5 (10) Oct 27, 2015
Sonic = Cannot work in space = Useless.
docile
Oct 27, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
jeffrm
5 / 5 (6) Oct 28, 2015
Sonic= applications on earth, Venus...anywhere with an atmosphere. Are propellers, turbofans, etc also useless?
swordsman
5 / 5 (1) Oct 28, 2015
Great accomplishment! Why didn't I think of that?

So why not do this with electromagnetic waves in the near field?
TychoKrafft
5 / 5 (1) Oct 28, 2015
Tractor beam?! Like in Star Wars? That ain't gonna work in outer space--no media for sound waves. Beam?? Beam of what? This is not a beam, it's a sound wave--waves, actually--and they're coalescing at high frequencies fast enough to vibrate the air molecules which bump the ball around. Neat science fair project in my opinion. How much mass does it move around vs how much power all those speakers consume? Exactly. And, since when did a hologram mean sound instead of light? I missed that memo. Call it a Sonogram, which is already taken, or Acoustogram, not a hologram just because it's invisible. How about writing articles without the fluff? It's easy, simply condense the subject matter with Reason instead of inflating it with hyperbole. It will be far more interesting that way, trust Reason.
Alexander_IK
5 / 5 (1) Nov 02, 2015
Creation of a number of micron- sized levitating particles in such acoustic traps may be interesting. They could form some ordered structures.
bluehigh
not rated yet Nov 02, 2015
* So why not do this with electromagnetic waves in the near field? *

Indeed, go ahead.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 02, 2015
Neat science fair project in my opinion.

Much more than that. In material sciences it is often crucial to keep the test-material pure. Especially when your test material is hot you have contamination issues with the vessel you're heating it in. Keeping such material afloat and/or being able to move it to where it can interact with another set of material under very controlled conditions in an inert atmosphere (e.g. Argon gas) would be incredibly useful.

The power requirements are immaterial, as the probe-substances you're usually working with are very small.

So why not do this with electromagnetic waves in the near field?

There's already some similar works being done.
http://www.iflsci...istances
s-l-y
not rated yet Nov 10, 2015
Would it be easier to use like 6 fan for the same result?

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