Are Star Wars tractor beams real?

According to the Daily Beast, research conducted by scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Sussex has yielded a working “tractor beam,” not unlike those featured in the Star Wars films. Using pure sound, the beam is able to hold, move, and rotate small objects without touching them.

The study, featured in the journal Nature Communications, reveals how researchers are using high intensity sound waves in order to turn the tractor beam from fiction to reality. Using 64 miniature speakers, an acoustic hologram, which can manipulate multiple objects in the air, is created.

Last year, a similar tractor beam device, which used light instead of sound, was shown to move particles as big as a fifth of a millimeter in diameter across a distance of nearly 8 inches. Sonic based tractor beam technology was shown in the recent study to have the ability to affect spherical beads ten times that size, though from a shorter distance.

Additionally, the sonic tractor beam has a wider range of object manipulation capabilities due to its use of sound over light. For example, the study showed that sound waves can act on an object as if they were shaped like a pair of tweezers, as if they were a cage entrapping the object, or as if they were a vortex trapping the object from its center.

Because they can affect objects beneath the surface of human skin, sonic tractor beams can be used to manipulate small objects within the body. Microsurgical instruments can be used be maneuvered precisely using sonic tractor beams, and so can things like drug capsules and kidney stones.

Lead author of the study, Asier Marzo, has revealed that the team is hopeful for the continued development and ambitious future of this technology. Marzo has even said the team is “working on a bigger version with a different working principle that aims to levitate a soccer ball over 30 feet away.”

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