back to article Brit boffins build 'tractor beam' out of sound

Researchers from Spain and the British city of Bristol have found a way to move objects using sound. In their Nature Communications paper, the six researchers explain that “Sound can levitate objects of different sizes and materials through air, water and tissue ... This allows us to manipulate cells, liquids, compounds or …

  1. msknight Silver badge

    OK - so next up someone is going to invent a sound-sabre. Yes?

    if they do, does that mean it will come with light-effects?

    1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

      Sound sabre is fine -- as long as it works on the 'brown' spectrum.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    The paper and video both describe small plastic beads being controlled, so this is obviously not something that is going to be used to draw the Millennium Falcon into the Death Star any time soon.

    Good luck getting that to work in SPAAAAAAAAACE....... ever.

    Sounds (scuse pun) more like a sonic screwdriver prototype to me.

  3. tony2heads


    Surely this is a phased array giving a localized dip in air pressure with strong peaks around it to hold beads in place - or have I missed something?

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge

      Re: Holographic?

      I don't know. Did you try reversing the polarity of the sonic oscillator and set the reactor power three more points.

    2. Bleu

      Re: Holographic?

      I agree. There is no sense in which it is holographic, and they use fake photos to publicise it, the ghostly fingers, there is no way it would make that image.

      An interesting contraption, but their claims are bullshit. How is it supposed to work anywhere except, perhaps in the air?

  4. Chris G Silver badge



  5. James Micallef Silver badge


    That is one mega-cool setup. Even if it had no practical applications, it's something that should be done, simply because it can be done.

    And cool. Did I mention cool?

    ---->>> Beers and cervezas all round ---->>>

  6. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    There is some prior art for single sided emitters moving things

    Brian Blessed can move things with sound, especially people, many of whom move away with alacrity.

    Joking aside, this is a very interesting development, and well done to the acousto-boffins! This might also be an interesting project to simulate for our students. I'll give the paper a thorough read

  7. PassiveSmoking

    Can you build a Weirding Module with it?

  8. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Moving objects with sound - been around for millenia . "Oi you 'orrible lot, move that now" shouted the Sarge.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      well obviously the sargent shouts

      but the grunts to the moving

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meet the missus

    They use high pitched high intensity noise to keep things elevated, nothing left to settle.

    Every small item manupulated by the constant whine.

  10. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge

    Of course, in my early work in this area...

    Handful of bird seed into a horizontal loudspeaker attached to a signal generator, anyone?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Of course, in my early work in this area...

      Isn't that more rapid bouncing than actual levitation? : )

      (For some reason this reminded me of the 1997 party political broadcasts in support of the Natural Law Party, featuring Yogic Flying)

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Of course, in my early work in this area...

      Would that be a tweeter?

    3. Vic

      Re: Of course, in my early work in this area...

      Handful of bird seed into a horizontal loudspeaker attached to a signal generator, anyone?

      Cornflour is more fun...


  11. Quentin North

    Spain, Bristol AND Sussex

    How come you don't mention Sussex uni, which two of the paper's authors are from?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Spain, Bristol AND Sussex

      A.M. [Pamplona .ac] and B.W.D. [Bristol .ac] designed, developed and implemented the algorithms and simulations; A.M. and S.A.S. [Bristol .co] measured the acoustic slices; A.M [Pamplona .ac] and D.R.S. [Sussex .ac] measured the spring constants; A.M. [Pamplona .ac] conducted the rest of the experiments and wrote the paper; all the authors contributed to the discussion and edited the manuscript.

      tl;dr Pamplona and Bristol created the algorithms, Sussex helped measure them.

  12. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Maybe a Rediscovery?

    There are some theories in the Ancient Aliens hypothesis that sound was used in the is the distant past to move large objects using cone shaped items.

    Not that I ascribe to these, but I like to keep an open mind regarding the unknown.

    It's got to have more uses than most of the sound related research of the last few years, which seems to be aimed at making large groups of people shit themselves or somesuch...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Maybe a Rediscovery?

      Sounds a bit Erich von Däniken or Robert Anton Wilson to me! : )

      But yeah, potential medical treatments and new methods of chemical preparation are more positive than crowd control.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Maybe a Rediscovery?

        While that's true about treatments and chemical preparation... once the military and police departments get into this... spending will be huge.

  13. Ru'

    Awesome, especially the alien abduction at the end of the vid :)

  14. Toltec

    Now for the hard bit

    Very clever stuff, however doing this in air is one thing, doing this in a non-homogenous medium like a human body will be even more impressive. I saw a demo of acoustic levitation some time ago, this is the next step on, looking forward to seeing how far they can go with the idea.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Now for the hard bit

      As I recall, they use sound to break up kidney stones in the bladder using ultrasound that hammers them and leaves the organs undamanged. You do have to sit in a big tub of water though.

      1. DocJames

        Re: Now for the hard bit

        If your kidney stones have made it to the bladder, they don't need treatment in general as they'll happily pass out of your urethra (tube from bladder to the outside). This is cos it is much larger than your ureters (tube between kidneys and bladder) in diameter. It's when stones are stuck here that there is pain. And using ultrasound to break them up is helpful, for the smaller ones (the larger ones it's too difficult and cold steel, aka surgery, is still indicated).

        Is my understanding. Not a urologist though.

  15. Klek


    -driver, Sonic is the only form which I will accept. And progress has been suspiciously slow.

  16. Graham Marsden

    That's no...

    ... acoustic structure...

  17. Zmodem

    it can make false eyes pop out as well

    you just need a ultra low frequency, and a mid range tone to move objects, having 20,000 watts and 20hz helps, domestic drivers only go down to 20hz, some go to 6hz but they cost £8000

    1. Zmodem

      word, normally happen when some like this is happening

      get a free sonic visualizer, you don`t need any bass tubes to move ping pong balls etc, hardcore is the best music to use, other music is made by nerds, who just talk the talk, then end up using samples because they star in mixmag :

      1. Zmodem

        a real rubbish video of a ping pong ball going back and forth with a standard rubbsih domestic hifi speaker

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