Scientists from the Public University of Navarre in Spain and universities in England have developed a device that uses ultrasonic waves to levitate and move tiny objects around, The Guardian reported.
They named their device, and its ability to attract particles, a “tractor beam” – after the fictional energy rope in Star Trek.
While their machine doesn’t use an energy beam, and won’t be useful for retrieving objects in space, the team hopes it can be used to manipulate microsurgical instruments inside patients’ bodies and direct drugs to damaged tissue.
In the journal Nature Communications, the researchers describe how they used ultrasound to move tiny polystyrene beads.
These beads measure 3mm in diameter and weigh a fraction of a gram.
While they can move larger and heavier objects, researchers say the main application for the technology is going to involve even smaller objects.
The technology works by using an array of flat speakers to produce acoustic holograms.
Similar to how visual holograms are produced in 3D from interfering light waves, so acoustic holograms are made by interfering sound waves.
As with any wave, where the peaks of two waves meet they produce a greater amplitude.
A video demonstrating the technology is embedded below.