All posts by Daniel Davies

World’s first sonic tractor beam lifts objects using sound waves

Researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Sussex, in collaboration with Ultrahaptics, have built the world’s first sonic tractor beam that can lift and move objects using sound waves.

Details of the device, published in Nature Communications, describe how the tractor beam uses high-amplitude sound waves to generate an acoustic hologram that is capable of picking up and moving small objects. The technique comes straight from the pages of a science-fiction novel.

“It was an incredible experience the first time we saw the object held in place by the tractor beam,” said Asier Marzo, PhD student and the lead author of the study.

The tractor beam works by using 64 miniature loudspeakers to create high-pitch and high-intensity sound waves. The resulting waves surround the object with sound and this creates a force field that keeps the object in place. By carefully controlling the output of the loudspeakers the object can be either be held in place, moved or rotated.

Sriram Subramanian, professor of Informatics at the University of Sussex and co-founder of Ultrahaptics, which is also working on using ultrasound to bring touch to virtual reality, explained: “In our device we manipulate objects in mid-air and seemingly defy gravity. Here we individually control dozens of loudspeakers to tell us an optimal solution to generate an acoustic hologram that can manipulate multiple objects in real-time without contact.”

Images courtesy of Asier Marzo, Bruce Drinkwater and Sriram Subramanian © 2015

Images courtesy of Asier Marzo, Bruce Drinkwater and Sriram Subramanian © 2015

The researchers hope the tractor beam can be developed to serve a wide range of applications. They describe how the current device could be used to transport delicate objects and assemble them, without the need for physical contact, or a miniature version could grip and transport drug capsules or microsurgical instruments through living tissue.

Depending on the desired application the research team have developed three different shapes of tractor beams. The first is an acoustic force field that resembles a pair of fingers or tweezers. The second is an acoustic vortex, the objects becoming stuck-in and then trapped at the core and the third is best described as a high-intensity cage that surrounds the objects and holds them in place from all directions.

Although the concept of an acoustic force field has long been envisioned by scientists, engineers and science-fiction writers, this breakthrough represents the first realised version of a sonic tractor beam that can lift and move objects using sound waves.

Previous work on acoustic studies had to surround the object with loudspeakers, which limits the extent of movement and restricts many applications.

Last year, the University of Dundee presented the concept of a tractor beam but no objects were held in the ray.

All-in-one VR headset promises smartphone-free wireless virtual reality

A wireless virtual reality system might be a step closer to reality depending on the outcome of a Kickstarter campaign which launches today.

The AuraVisor headset includes a built-in computer and doesn’t require the user to be connected to any other platform. Its creators claim it’s the first virtual reality system that doesn’t need to be connected to a computer or smartphone to operate.

In contrast to other VR systems, such as the Oculus Rift, AuraVisor’s wireless capability means that it could provide a cheaper alternative for users looking to enter into the world of virtual reality.

“The AuraVisor has the potential to do to virtual reality what the Model T Ford did to transport, the Atari 2600 did to home gaming and the camcorder did to home movies,” said James Talbot, director of AuraVisor.

“It has its own operating system and battery on board and you can use the AuraVisor completely wirelessly allowing you to completely immerse yourself in the experiences on offer,”

AuraVisor-virtualreality-1

The system itself features a built in 5in screen that delivers a full 1080p HD video and a 100in field of vision. It promises users a truly immersive gaming experience.

However, gamers looking to amplify their experience can be connect the device to a PS4, hook it up to a Mac or use it with an Xbox.

Built-in Bluetooth provides simple connectivity to a wide range of controllers, sticks, yokes and headsets and the on-board Wi-Fi and a simple smart scrolling graphical user interface means you can turn on, download and immerse yourself in whatever activity you like.

Images courtesy of AuraVisor

Images courtesy of AuraVisor

The AuraVisor user interface will also allow users to download games and add movies or video clips from the app store.

The VR system is compatible with YouTube 360° videos and users can connect to YouTube via the UI.

AuraVisor’s creators claim there are already a huge selection of apps and videos available to use and the device will ship with a number of apps and games pre-installed to allow for true “out of the box” set up.

Talbot added: “Because AuraVisor has been designed from the ground up to specifically function as VR, the initial set up is quick and simple and the graphics do not pixelate. The headset does not suffer from noticeable latency or lagging issues as you move your head freely.”

At the time of writing the AuraVisor had already managed to generate ten per cent of its £100,000 target.