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!


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