Here's how to build your very own working Star Trek-style tractor beam

Whether it’s Star Trek, Star Wars, or anything in between, invisible grappling hook-style “tractor beams” have been a staple of science fiction for years.

But what if you could build your own functioning, hand-held version, using no more than a 3D printer, Arduino, and some other easily obtainable components? Well, as you might have guessed from that oddly specific hypothetical, you can do exactly that — courtesy of new research coming out of the United Kingdom’s University of Bristol.

“Previously, acoustic tractor beams have been generated using lots of tiny speakers, each of them emitting carefully engineered signals,” University of Bristol researcher Asier Marzo Perez told Digital Trends. “This requires complex electronics since each speaker has its own signal generators and amplifier. In this work, we prove that it is possible to generate a tractor beam by letting a simple wave — generated with a single signal — pass through a series of tubes of different lengths. This simplifies the construction and price of a tractor beam so much that now almost everyone can build their own.”

The research of Marzo Perez and colleagues is available both as a handy how-to video, shown above, or as a design published in the journal Applied Physics Letters. While it’s not large enough to trap the Starship Enterprise or Millennium Falcon, it’s certainly an interesting proof of concept that hints at bigger (or smaller) things — and, in the meantime, can wow your more science-minded friends.

“With a more powerful version we can levitate heavier objects, such as liquids,” Marzo Perez continued. “The levitated samples can be observed from any angle without occlusions, [which] is a recent trend for X-ray crystallography or Raman-spectroscopy in blood analysis. Similarly, levitated liquids of chemical solutions can be mixed without contamination. However, for me, the most important application is using a smaller version to manipulate particles that are inside our body, like kidney stones or clots, from the outside, without any incision. This is possible since sound travels even better through water or our body than through air.”

In other words, what are you waiting for? Get building!

Mobile

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.
Outdoors

Rough it in absolute comfort with the best sleeping pads available

Shopping for a sleeping pad for your next backpacking trip? Don't buy something that feels like a cold slab of stone. Narrow your selection with our carefully selected list of the best sleeping pads available.
Mobile

Walk, run, and stretch with these handy iPhone fitness apps

Working out and getting yourself in shape isn't easy, but it's easier with the right set of apps. These best iPhone fitness apps will help you to track your calories, monitor your sleep, and achieve your fitness goals.
Photography

These are the best action cameras money can buy

Action cameras are great tools for capturing videos of your everyday activities, whether it's a birthday party or the steepest slope you've ever descended on your snowboard. These are the best money can buy.
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.
Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.
Emerging Tech

Beautiful image of young planets sheds new light on planet formation

Researchers examining protoplanetary disks -- the belts of dust that eventually form planets -- have shared fascinating images of the planets from their survey, showing the various stages of planet formation.
Emerging Tech

Delivery robot goes up in flames while out and about in California

A small meal-delivery robot suddenly caught fire in Berkeley, California, on Friday. The blaze was quickly tackled and no one was hurt, but the incident is nevertheless a troubling one for the fledgling robot delivery industry.
Emerging Tech

High-tech dancing robot turns out to be a guy in a costume

A Russian TV audience was impressed recently by an adult-sized "robot" that could dance and talk. But when some people began pointing out that its actions were a bit odd, the truth emerged ... it was a fella in a robot suit.
Emerging Tech

MIT’s smart capsule could be used to release drugs in response to a fever

Researchers have developed a 3D-printed capsule which can monitor patients' vital signs, transmit this information to a connected device, and release drugs in response to symptoms.
Emerging Tech

‘Crop duster’ robot is helping reseed the Great Barrier Reef with coral

In a world first, an undersea robot has delivered microscopic coral larvae to the Great Barrier Reef. Meet Larvalbot: the robot "crop duster" which dispenses coral babies on troubled reefs.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.
Features

Cities looking to get smart take a lesson from an iconic shopping mall

From Disney World to the Mall of America, public venues are becoming microcosms for smart city projects. We dove into both, to show what government officials can learn – and what you can expect from your city.