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Sound waves used to move levitating objects in 3D space

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Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Japanese Scientists have used acoustic levitation to not just levitate objects in space, but, incredibly, move them around.

Acoustic levitation has been around for some time — a technology that uses standing sound waves to levitate an object in the air. NASA employed it for anti-gravity experiments; Chinese scientists have levitated small animals; and chemists use it to better create amorphous solutions.

Up until now, though, we'd only seen it holding objects in place.

Scientists at the University of Tokyo and the Nagoya Institute of Technology have figured out how to use standing acoustic waves to move objects around. Using an ultrasonic array, they can create a focal point, into which an object can be placed and levitated — as we've seen before. However, this array can then move that focal point around — and with it, the object inside.

"Our manipulation system has two original features," wrote The University of Tokyo's Yoichi Ochai. "One is the direction of the ultrasound beam, which is arbitrary because the force acting toward its centre is also utilised. The other is the manipulation principle by which a localised standing wave is generated at an arbitrary position and moved three-dimensionally by opposed and ultrasonic phased arrays. We experimentally confirmed that various materials could be manipulated by our proposed method."

The result is not ready for functional application just yet (which means floating trays or personal robot assistants are a way off), but it's certainly a fascinating — and beautiful — step forward for hover technology. And, because it employs ultrasound, it's inaudible to the human ear.

You can see how it works in the video below, and read more in the study "Three-dimensional Mid-air Acoustic Manipulation by Ultrasonic Phased Arrays" published on arXiv.


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