Tractor Beams Become A Reality
The team has created three different shapes of acoustic force fields. Reuters

The world's first sonic tractor beam has been devised by researchers from the universities of Bristol and Sussex, moving from the realm of science fiction into scientific fact. Reuters Correspondent Jim Drury saw it for himself.

Video Transcript:

It's the world's first sonic tractor beam.

Created by researchers at the universities of Sussex and Bristol, it lifts and moves objects using soundwaves.

"What we have here is what we call an acoustic hologram....we have a flat surface and we are creating a 3D acoustic field that can surround the particle," said Asier Marzo, PhD Student and the University of Bristol and lead author of the study.

That acoustic field is created by individually controlling 64 miniature loudspeakers at a frequency of 40 kilohertz.

This creates high-pitched and high-intensity sound waves that can levitate polystyrene beads, keeping them in place, moving or rotating them.

The team has created three different shapes of acoustic force fields.

The researchers are certainly thinking big says Marzo.

"Basically one of our future projects aims at levitating something that's like a beachball ten metres away and we think this could be very useful for zero gravity environments, like under water or in the International Space Station. If you check videos everything is floating around, water, the nuts, screws, everything is adrift uncontrollably, so if you can create fake gravity with this device it would help a lot the astronauts."

But the team also wants to miniaturize the technology for use in medical procedures.

"For me the major application, the best application, would be going smaller and levitating things inside your body and this could be drug capsules, this could be kidney stones, this could be clots or micro surgical instruments, a tiny scalpel, tiny scissors that you could control from the outside without any incision."

Until recently, the concept of a tractor beam was confined to science-fiction like Star Trek.

But by using sound, rather than light, to create a real-life version, the researchers have gone boldly where no scientist has gone before.