Real Life ‘Star Trek’ Tractor Beam Could Soon Levitate Humans, Scientists Say

(ANTIMEDIA) — Next to flying, mind reading, and teleportation, levitation is one of the superpowers humans most commonly wish for. But like the others, the ability to levitate has remained relegated to the annals of science fiction and superhero movies. But scientists testing a new technology called acoustic tractor beams say the day will arrive when humans can levitate.

Working principle of virtual vortices, intertwined short vortices of opposite directions are emitted to trap and stabilize the particle. (Credit: Univeristy of Bristol)

Acoustic tractor beams use sound waves to stabilize particles in mid-air. However, while they have been more effective at levitating solids and liquids than magnetic tractor beams, scientists did not think they would be able to sustain an object the size of a human without it spinning out of control. The new experiment, set to be published in Physical Review Letters, used fluctuating acoustic vortices in what has been described as a “tornado of sound” to create a stabilized beam with a silent core.

The study authors used ultrasonic waves with a pitch of 40 kHz — a pitch so high only bats can hear it — to levitate a two-centimeter polystyrene sphere. Previous attempts at levitating objects of that size had left scientists frustrated. In the future, the researchers say, they will be able to test much larger objects, including humans.

Working with ultrasonic waves at a pitch of 40kHz, a similar pitch to that which only bats can hear, the researchers held a two-centimetre polystyrene sphere in the tractor beam. (Credit: University of Bristol)

Dr. Mihai Caleap, a senior research associate who developed the simulations used at Bristol’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, confirmed the science is only headed up:

“In the future, with more acoustic power it will be possible to hold even larger objects. This was only thought to be possible using lower pitches making the experiment audible and dangerous for humans.”

Scientists also say this technology will have exciting applications in a variety of fields, including medical devices, like drug capsules or micro-surgical implements, as well as  “contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them.”

Interestingly, the other superpowers mentioned above may someday be possible because of technological advances, too. Humans will likely attain solo flight with the aid of jetpacks, mind reading may soon be possible with brain-to-brain interface technology, and even teleportation is conceivable, scientists say, although anything more than a single photon is a ways off.

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