Thursday, October 29, 2015

New breakthroughs on the Sci-Fi tractor beam from Star Wars and Star Trek

In this article by Rhodi Lee, Lee claims that British scientists from the University of Bristol, led by Asier Marzo have created the “science-fiction” tractor beam. The tractor beam, created on Tuesday, October 27th, uses ultrasound frequency of forty kilohertz to levitate, rotate, and move things without any physical contact. The fabled tractor beam can famously be seen in the movies “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”, when a ship is seized by the beam and pulled into the ship using the tractor beam, e.g., the “enterprise” from “Star Trek.” This notion of a tractor beam is still well beyond our capabilities at the moment, for the tractor beam we have now is still in its infancy, and can still only lift very small objects. In the future however, Marzo and his colleagues envision a variety of practical uses for the tractor beam, such as “containerless transportation,” “knife-free” medical procedures, and a “sonic production line.” A tractor beam could provide a safe means of transporting dangerous materials, such as uranium or anything else of that nature. The tractor beam could also be used to transport drug capsules through a person’s body directly to the targeted location, without the need for incisions. It could also be used to manipulate microsurgical instruments or cells inside the body, also without the need for incision. When a stronger beam is created, it could be used in production lines to transport sterile or delicate objects, which could reduce human labor along with payroll costs, and increase efficiency, positively affecting companies.
            In this article, the main attraction point is in the title and in the first few paragraphs when “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” are mentioned with their uses of the tractor beam. Later on in the article Lee quotes Marzo, who states that, “’Sound cannot travel through the void of space…’” The use of big title Science-fiction movies gives the “wow” factor that makes you think that soon we’ll have the kind of technology that these movies have, even though the author directly quotes Marzo saying that sound, the main component of this tractor beam, cannot travel through space, which is the setting of these big Hollywood films. Also, there is no mention of any possible downsides or criticisms of using a tractor beam for medical and surgical purposes. There is no mention of the amplitude used with the forty-kilohertz frequency. Although forty kilohertz would not be enough to cause damage to the human body, with a high enough amplitude, it could become damaging. Would the tractor beam require high amplitude in order to work? I think that it is necessary to address some of these questions to assess the usefulness of this stage of the tractor beam.


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