As soon as you hear the phrase flying carpet, your brain, in a fraction of second, draws a picture of characters out of The Arabian Nights sitting on it. However, the time of The Arabian Nights is over, and a flying carpet has landed in the real world.

A Princeton University graduate student with origins in India has designed a miniature magic carpet made of plastic, which took flight in a laboratory there.

According to a BBC report, the 4-inch (10-centimeter) sheet of smart transparency is driven by ripple power, waves of electrical current driving thin pockets of air from front to back underneath it.

The prototype, described in Applied Physics Letters, moves at speeds of about a centimeter per second. Improvements to the design could raise that to as much as a meter per second.

Talking about his creation, Joah Jafferis said: It has to keep close to the ground because the air is then trapped between the sheet and the ground. As the waves move along the sheet, it basically pumps the air out the back.

The designer of the thin carpet is also working on a solar-powered version that would not require a battery tether. The solar version might be able to travel a longer distance than the battery-powered version does.

What was difficult was controlling the precise behavior of the sheet as it deformed at high frequencies, James Sturm, the professor who leads Jafferis' research group, told the BBC.

However, the research team has kept the word flying in quotes as the device has more in common with a hovercraft than with an airplane.