“Beam Me Up, Scotty!”

In a story straight out of the pages of a sci-fi book, researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Sussex, along with collaborators from Ultrahaptics, have built the world’s very first sonic tractor beam. It uses high-amplitude sound waves to generate an acoustic hologram capable of lifting and moving small objects without physical touch. PhD student and lead author of the study Asier Marzo says, “It was an incredible experience the first time we saw the object held in place by the tractor beam.”

Sound Mechanics

The sonic tractor beam utilizes 64 miniature loudspeakers that create high-intensity and high-pitch sound waves that surround an object, creating a force field and holding it in place. The researchers are then able to move or rotate the object by carefully controlling the output of the speakers. Ultrahaptics co-founder Sriram Subramanian said, “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.”

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