Over the past 50 years we’ve watched aliens, star fleets and a number of other sci-fi entities employ tractor beams. Though the technology seems like nothing more than a fantasy, researchers at the University of Dundee have created a real life tractor beam using acoustic waves.
Working in collaboration with partners at Southampton University and Illinois Wesleyan University, Dundee researchers used energy from an ultrasound array to pull a 1cm triangular object from a stationary position towards the beam’s source.
Taking advantage of their target object’s shape researchers used ultrasonic pulses to overcome friction forces and keep the object stable. By bouncing beams of sonic energy at a precise power level and angle of incidence, researchers created a pressurized pocket behind the object which forced it to advance towards the tractor beam.
“This is the first time anyone has demonstrated a working acoustic tractor beam and the first time such a beam has been used to move anything bigger than microscopic targets,” said Dr Christine Demore of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSAT) at Dundee.
“We were able to show that you could exert sufficient force on an object around one centimeter in size to hold or move it, by directing twin beams of energy from the ultrasound array towards the back of the object.”
What’s more incredible is that the Dundee team designed their acoustic tractor beam using off the shelf parts. Key to their machine’s abilities was an ultrasound device that’s been clinically approved for use in MRI guided ultrasound surgeries.
While the power and technology required to tow a human or star cruiser is currently out of reach, researchers believe their tractor beam could be used to improve ultrasound-based healthcare in the near term.
Source: University of Dundee & Physical Letters Review