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Sci-fi sonic tractor beams become reality

Publishing & Media

Researchers at the Public University of Navarre team up with Ultrahaptics to develop sonic beams that hold objects in fixed positions.

In June, we came across Ultrahaptics, the virtual interface which enables users to experience ‘phantom’ tactile sensations, mid-air with their bare hands. Now, the company has teamed up with researchers at the Public University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain to make sonic tractor beams a reality.

The team used a series of miniature speakers to generate a 3D sound wave field, and by manipulating individual speaker frequencies, they were able to levitate a small polystyrene ball at a fixed position several centimeters above the speakers. This marks the first time such a feat has been demonstrated. By altering the frequencies of individual speakers, the ball can be manipulated around the platform in real-time, opening up the possibility of tractor beams, which could be used to transport larger objects often depicted in science fiction. PhD student Asier Marzo suggests that the method could even be applied in targeted human medicines — the sound waves can trap drugs in position, so that it will only scatter in a particular area.


The team is working to scale the sonic beams for both larger and small applications. What could this exciting technology be used for?



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