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Science

Will We One Day Use Tractor Beams In Manufacturing? (cnet.com) 59

An anonymous reader quotes CNET: Engineers from the University of Bristol have been able to trap (essentially levitate) objects using an acoustic tractor beam that is larger than the wavelengths of sound used by the device... [A]pplications could include touchless control of drug capsules or micro-surgical implements inside the human body using sonic tractor beams. It could also become possible to move and manipulate fragile items in a whole new way. "I'm particularly excited by the idea of contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them," said Bristol's Bruce Drinkwater, who oversaw the work.
Futurism.com adds that other researchers are also working on tractor beams in manufacturing, including one at the University of Glasgow. "The group demonstrated the process by assembling a pattern of solder beads using an optoelectronic trap, taking the liquid away, then applying heat to fuse the beads together and forge electrical connections," they report, adding "It should be possible to manipulate as many as 10,000 beads at the same time."
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Will We One Day Use Tractor Beams In Manufacturing?

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  • Won't work in outer space. Good start though.
  • Not Sound (Score:3, Informative)

    by notsteve ( 650350 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @10:00PM (#55975365)
    This is much easier to understand if you don't think of it as sound. Sound only exists inside the brain, and the word has numerous connotations that obfuscate what's going on here. Outside of the brain, you have simple waves of air pressure. At the simplest level, if you blow on anything hard enough, you can levitate it. But perhaps there is a more efficient way to encode the energy in the moving air, and one that allows more flexibility in how the object can be moved, and balance. That's all that's at work here. The devil is in the details of aligning the frequencies, vectors, etc. [Source: was PhD candidate in audio research at Glasgow University.]
    • if you blow on anything hard enough, you can levitate it

      Blowing to push something away is trivial, yeah. Blowing at something to pull it towards you, though, is a wee bit harder.

      • You mean by inhaling?
      • Blowing at something to pull it towards you, though, is a wee bit harder.

        Your thinking on this really sucks.

        And anyway, technically, this isn't simple "blowing." It's vector addition of pressure wavefronts.

        • And anyway, technically, this isn't simple "blowing." It's vector addition of pressure wavefronts.

          This is not blowing at all. Regular blowing produces just a mass of air moving outwards, without multiple pressure fronts: there's obviously a big pressure front in the, well, front, but there's no sound involved (at least unless added artificially by obstructing airways or such).

          With sound, a particle of air oscillates but doesn't move on the average (unless accompanied by blowing, that is).

          These guys manipulate sound in a way that keeps an overpressure under the item and underpressure over it.

          • This is not blowing at all. [...] With sound, a particle of air oscillates but doesn't move on the average

            Only if the sound is a purely mirrored wavefront - a pure tone. Even that, however, is not at all the same as "not blowing."

            Put your hand in front of a subwoofer that's pumping a bit. A pure 20 Hz tone is fine. The air most certainly is moving. Quite a distance, too.

            Think about it: Given an isolated mass of air, if the wind blows east for 1 min at 20 MPH, and then west for 1 min at 20 MPH, then the air,

            • Yeah, but if you move a furlong to the east then a furlong to the west, you're in the same place. Even if you repeat that exercise many times, with the wind stopping at random moments, you still won't move on the average. Same if different people emit sound at you.

              To have an item move (rather than just flutter around) via sound, you need to carefully control the phase of every source.

              This stands in contrast with blowing, which allows pushing the item away from you with no fine control required.

              • ...aaand now you're right back to what I originally said:

                this isn't simple "blowing." It's vector addition of pressure wavefronts.

                So glad you agree. :)

      • Blowing to push something away is trivial, yeah. Blowing at something to pull it towards you, though, is a wee bit harder.

        That's why it's a dumb way to describe what's going on. Speakers, transducers, even static column speakers, none of them just push — every time they push, they pull just as much. But you can change the speed at which they do each thing...

  • It has many interesting settings.

  • They're not tractor beams, but pressor beams.

  • It's a neat tech, but "Tractor beam" is stretching it I think. How many dbs do you think it'd take to suspend a 30 lb box? I suspect a very dangerous amount. Still for small stuff, this could be very cool.

  • I have to wonder what the energy cost is to achieve this? I find it difficult to believe that the energy cost would be efficient for large sized objects, but perhaps it will find niche uses for manipulating small (and lightweight) ones.
  • University of Glasgow invents tractor beams for manufacturing processes, surpassing the discovery of transparent aluminum a few years ago at the University of Edinburgh (commercialized by the San Francisco based Plexicorp):
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • So, tractor beams are not possible in space, because there's no sound there ;)
  • Why it sea shipping still the main method of transporting gods? Because it is efficient. This is also why so called drone delivery will never be more then a publicity stunt with the technology we have today. Lifting something up into the air using propellers is inefficient as hell, plain and simple. And I imagine a 'tractor beam' would be orders of magnitude less efficient then this again.
    • That depends. First, by this logic, delivering a 500 g package by air is waste, so you'll send a 2000 kg van instead. Second, future drones can be land-based, too.
    • Why it sea shipping still the main method of transporting gods?

      Well, most gods can fly.

  • 1. repulsor beams are more energy efficient, so they are likely to be used first;
    2. this device repels, so is kind of like a repulsor beam;
    3. a true repulsor beam or tractor beam is gravito-magnetic, not sonic;
    4. a true repsor beam will generate an off axis tractor beam of equal power, but with that power dispersed over a wider arc (most likely a full 360 degree dispersal in the plane perpendicular to the beam, with additional dispersal above and below that plane), so there is a small possibility of using t

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