Scientists make it possible to 3D print your own sonic tractor beam

You can now, with some assembly, 3D print your very own tiny sonic tractor beam.

Thanks to the efforts of a research team at Bristol University, technology for a single-sided acoustic tractor beam has now been adapted to be printed and assembled by anyone with the inclination. The publically available specifications are based on the first single-sided acoustic tractor beam, developed last year.

The original technology was developed by Asier Marzo, then a doctoral student at the Public University of Navarre. The tractor beam, rather than using the long-possible sonic levitation to push objects around, functioned true to its name and was able to trap and pull objects using sound waves from only one direction.

Marzo, now a research assistant at the University of Bristol, led his team in changing the technology into something that anyone could produce. Their efforts, beyond adaptation, have resulted in the production of a fully detailed how-to video for the public and an open access paper in Applied Physics Letters that will lay out the results of their development work.

“Previously we developed a tractor beam, but it was very complicated and pricey because it required a phase array, which is a complex electronic system,” Marzo said. “In this paper, we made a simple, static tractor beam that only requires a static piece of matter.”

The principle change from the original technology to the new, more accessible version was the transition from an underlying complex structure that made use of expensive electronics to an architecture that produces the same results structurally rather than electronically. As the sound passes through these elements, the waves are shaped by the internal structure of the 3D printed material.

The sound wave is modulated using a metamaterial which consists of lots of tubes of varying lengths. After passing through said tubes, the sound has the correct phases to create the tractor beam. However, the team face difficulty in optimising this material design to allow common 3D printers to produce the same results as more precise instruments.

Beyond the simple appeal of owning your own tractor beam, the technology may have serious potential for studying low-gravity effects on biological samples. Microgravity research is already an emerging field of interest and the tractor beam may serve as an effective tool for furthering these studies.

“Recently there have been several papers about what happens if we levitate an embryo, how does it develop? Or what happens if we levitate bacteria?” Marzo said. “For instance, they discovered salmonella is three times more [virulent] when it’s levitated. Certain microorganisms react differently to microgravity.”

There are currently three designs of the tractor beam, each with a trapping profile suited to different object sizes as related to the wavelength of sound used. However, the team’s technology is still limited to objects around half the size of the wavelength. For practical frequencies, just above what humans can hear, this limits the current size of trappable objects to a few millimetres.

Life expectancy to break the 90-year barrier by 2030

New research has revealed that the average life expectancy is set to increase in many countries by 2030 and, in South Korea specifically, will improve so much as to exceed an average of 90 years. The study analysed long-term data on mortality and longevity trends to predict how life expectancy will change from now until 2030.

The study was led by scientists from Imperial College London in collaboration with the World Health Organization. Looking at 35 industrialised nations, the team highlighted South Korea as a peak for life expectancy; predicting expectancy from birth, they estimate that a baby girl born in South Korea in 2030 will expect to live 90.8 years, while men are expected to live to be 84.1 years.

Scientists once thought an average life expectancy of over 90 was impossible, according to Professor Majid Ezzati, lead researcher from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London:

“We repeatedly hear that improvements in human longevity are about to come to an end. Many people used to believe that 90 years is the upper limit for life expectancy, but this research suggests we will break the 90-year barrier,” he said.

“I don’t believe we’re anywhere near the upper limit of life expectancy -if there even is one.”

South Korea leads in life expectancy. Image courtesy of jedydjah. Featured image courtesy of Carey and Kacey Jordan

Ezzati explained that the high expectancy for South Korean lives was likely due to a number of factors including good nutrition in childhood, low blood pressure, low levels of smoking, good access to healthcare, and uptake of new medical knowledge and technologies. It is likely that, by 2030, South Korea will have the highest life expectancy in the world.

Elsewhere, French women and Swiss men are predicted to lead expectancies in Europe, with 88.6 years and nearly 84 years respectively. The UK is expected to average 85.3 years for women (21st in the table of countries studied) and 82.5 years for men (14th in the table).

The study included both high-income countries and emerging economies. Among the high-income countries, the US was found to have the lowest predicted life expectancy at birth. Averaging similar to Croatia and Mexico, the researchers suggested this was due to a number of factors including a lack of universal healthcare, as well as the highest child and maternal mortality rate, homicide rate and obesity among high-income countries.

A lack of universal healthcare is one of the reasons the US trails behind in life expectancy. Image courtesy of HSeverson

Notably, the research also suggests that the life expectancy gap between men and women is closing and that a large factor in increasing expectancy is due in no small part to older sections of the population living longer than before.

Such increased longevity is not without issue, however, as countries may not be prepared to support an ageing population.

“The fact that we will continue to live longer means we need to think about strengthening the health and social care systems to support an ageing population with multiple health needs,” added Ezzati.

“This is the opposite of what is being done in the era of austerity. We also need to think about whether current pension systems will support us, or if we need to consider working into later life.”

Out in a matter of weeks, the Switch is a classic Nintendo console: offbeat, unusual and arguably underpowered. But it could also represent a new dawn in video games

On the 3rd March Nintendo will release its latest console and, arguably, its latest handheld. I am, of course, talking about the Nintendo Switch: the hybrid console that the Japanese gaming giant is hoping will return it to success.

Effectively a touchscreen tablet that can dock into a supporting hub to be used on the TV, the Switch is unlike any console we’ve seen before. Featuring two nunchuck-like controllers that can be attached to the sides of the main device to transform it into a portable system, or detached and used as motion or conventional controllers, the Switch is designed for a multitude of configurations and gaming styles.

Within the context of the current videogame market, it’s an extremely off-piste offering. While Sony and Microsoft have focused on producing meaty consoles with the best possible graphics, Nintendo has opted to run the Switch on a relatively modest Tegra processor that optimises as much for battery life as it does for graphics.

But in doing so, Nintendo has marked itself out as a very different type of videogame console maker, providing a product with very different features to its supposed competition. And while for some it is merely another example of Nintendo being just a bit crazy, those features could mark the start of a whole new category of gaming device.

State of the industry

Here in 2017, the gaming market is a very different place than a decade or two ago. For one thing, it’s far more mainstream: gone are the days where video games were something played only by teenage nerds in their bedrooms. Now everyone from your girlfriend to your mum is a gamer of some sort or another, and the types of games being made have become far more varied.


But if you were to look at the triple-A offerings from both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, you might not think that was the case. Both consoles remain faithful to the so-called hardcore, by and large they have done little to step up their offerings from the types of games they were offering a decade or so ago.

Nintendo, however, seems keen to make games for a host of different types of players, which could put it in a very good position come Christmas.

“We believe that by [next holiday season], with the launch of Super Mario Odyssey, that the footprint for Nintendo Switch will be very broad. Kids, young adults, parents, gamers will occupy that footprint,” explained Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé in an interview with Time.

“But what’s going to happen is that, that space is going to be filled in at each point in time with the subsequent launches. So for example, if you look at the first 45 days, you’ve got Zelda, 1-2 Switch, Mario Kart 8. So the active gamer. And candidly, the more the active gamer sees, the more excited they’re going to be for that game.”

On-the-go gaming

At the heart of the Switch’s appeal is the fact that it allows you to continue playing a console-quality game with you pretty much anywhere. Imagine being able to play Skyrim on your commute, Mario on a car journey or Zelda on a long-haul flight; it’s a very cool prospect.

And then there’s the appeal of a portable version of games that fans fall in love with and never stop playing. Rocket League, for example, has not been officially announced for the Switch, but developer Psyonix has been making positive noises that have got gamers seriously excited.

Imagine being able to play Skyrim on your commute, Mario on a car journey or Zelda on a long-haul flight; it’s a very cool prospect

By attracting different sets of fans across the gaming spectrum, Nintendo is widening its pool of users, and in doing so is likely hoping that it will significantly increase sales from the rather disastrous Wii U.

But the on-the-go element also has another appeal: free advertising. If users do take their Switch with them everywhere, they are likely to become a common site in cities across the world, and being more frequently aware of a product makes it far more likely that you’ll buy it.

However, for some developers the Switch provide a step towards a truly ubiquitous form of gaming.

Metal Gear Solid creator and all-round gaming legend Hideo Kojima, for example, was full of praise for the Switch in an interview with IGN, describing it as a natural evolution of a technology he developed called Transfarring, which allowed players to transfer saved data between the PS Vita and the PS3.

“I believe [Switch] is an extension of that idea. The fact you can play something at home and take it outside, this is the gamer’s dream. The Switch is an evolution of that,” he said.

“For example, often when you buy a Blu-Ray disc, it’ll have a code on the inside for a digital version, so in the same respect you can watch it at home and then take it on the go on your tablet and smartphone. This is how movies and TV are moving, and this is how games should go.”

He even went so far as to describe the Switch’s technology as a step towards a future where players can access their games anywhere.

“I feel like cloud technology is what everything will eventually move to,” he added. “It’s further behind right now than I think where people thought it would be at this point, but I think it will go there, and when the infrastructure is ready, you’ll be able to play everything, on every device, anywhere. The Switch is the predecessor to this step.”

Beyond the screen

The Switch’s innovation doesn’t just stop at portability. For some games, the screen itself will become a background feature, encouraging players to face each other and interact in a more personal manner.

“With Switch, it’s not just something that you’ll be looking at a screen to play. In certain cases you don’t even have to look at a screen,” said Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima in an interview with Time.

At launch, the game that will provide this functionality is 1-2-Switch, a party game that looks to be this console’s answer to Wii Sports. Featuring a host of mini games, it will see players facing each other to compete in everything from competitive milking to quick-draw Western-style duels.

It’s a bizarre offering, but exactly the sort of game you can imagine your granny playing at Christmas, meaning it’s probably going to be a hit.

Images courtesy of Nintendo

But whether other games will follow suit in rejecting a screen as the central focus remains to be seen. These types of gimmicks are often greatly talked about by Nintendo, but failed to attract much support from third-party developers.

Despite this, it is a sign that Nintendo is pursuing the line proposed by the company’s late CEO, Satoru Iwata. A veteran developer himself, he was concerned at how isolating modern technology was becoming, and so was keen to develop projects that would bring people together, and help them to interact.

“New technologies have, in general, made life easier and more efficient,” he said in a 2012 video presentation. “But we have to wonder what this means for the nature of human relationships moving forward… We believe we can solve the issue of alone together.”

Nintendo gets it right

At the end of last year, when Nintendo finally unveiled his proposition for the Switch, it was met with mixed reactions from the online world. While some were thrilled at the prospect of gaming on the go, others felt this was just another wacky Nintendo offering destined to go the same way as the Wii U.

Nintendo already appears to have surpassed the Wii U’s success, allowing them now to focus on the giddy sales heights of the original Wii

But Nintendo seems determined to make sure that doesn’t happen. Marketing for the Switch’s predecessor was fairly disastrous, with the initial announcement leaving players unsure as to whether this was a new console, or just a new controller. And it didn’t get much better from there: in many countries marketing for the Wii U was almost non-existent, and many consumers remained completely oblivious to the fact Nintendo had a new offering on the market.

But this time, the company seems to be getting it right. Carefully timed releases have ensured that online excitement has steadily grown over the past few months, culminating in an in excitement-inducing Super Bowl ad, and events for YouTubers and other non-corporate parts of the gaming media have contributed to far more discussion about the upcoming console than would otherwise likely have been the case.

All this has combined to create a situation where Nintendo already appears to have surpassed the Wii U’s success, allowing them now to focus on the giddy sales heights of the original Wii.

“Looking at responses from consumers, we are seeing that launch day pre-orders have nearly reached the maximum available. We will deliver Nintendo Switch orders as early as possible after the launch,” said Kimishima. “Our plan under the financial forecast is to ship two million units by the end of March, and we are increasing its production. We hope to see strong sales momentum like we saw in 2008 and 2009 [for the Wii].”