you can now build a tractor beam at home

Tractor beams aren't just for aliens cruising Earth and looking for people to abduct anymore. In fact, you can build one yourself.

ufo beaming up

It seems that every other sci-fi story involving aliens has a show where their craft suddenly shine a beam of light at whatever they want to capture and pull it into their opaque innards, never to be seen again, be it a fighter jet set to investigate their presence, a person, or a random cow. Well, it turns out that we actually know how to make tractor beams like this, except we’re not quite at the point where towing trucks can levitate your car out of a ditch by using the power of lasers or sound. But we’re definitely getting there. While hollow lasers that move objects forward and backward by manipulating how the air around them is heated are struggling with their need for a great deal of power to move objects large enough to be visible, we’re seeing superior results from sonic tractor beams. In fact, they’re getting so powerful that a recent paper from the UK even comes with a video tutorial on how to build your very own handheld tractor beam for less than $100 after a few hours of fairly trivial work. The end result isn’t just a toy either, it has some practical applications in the world of research and medicine.

Sonic tractor beams could levitate blood and cell samples for examination as well as help remove small objects from inside a patient’s body or position all sorts of tiny tools during delicate surgeries. Much larger and more powerful versions could one day allow for more efficient assembly of complex parts or more efficient designs that may be hard to manufacture now, but when you become free to position an object any way you want to access it, may be very feasible. Even more powerful versions could arguably become something like shields for military hardware, slowing down incoming shells and missiles to a crawl, or pushing them out of the way and deflecting their blasts. But I am getting ahead of myself on that last point because this sort of use for tractor beams would require absolutely immense amounts of energy and arrays big enough to be impractical with current technology, though we’d at least know what it takes to make that happen and a path to move forward with it.

And when it comes to tractor beams, now is the time to get bold because at this very minute, when you can order a couple of basic things online to build a tractor beam in your own home. It’s pretty hard not to get excited about a futuristic technology almost anyone can build on a whim. The only problem I can see so far is that it’s limited by the need for an atmosphere, and it’s not exactly a trivial task to create an electromagnetic tractor beam that works at long distances without turning into some sort of death ray. And vaporizing a target object doesn’t fall under the job description of a tractor beam…

# science // diy / physics / scientific research / tractor beams


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