Oct 31, 2015 I Paul Seaburn

Tractor Beams and X-Ray Vision Are Now a Reality

Look out Superman and Captain Kirk. We normal humans have finally developed powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. OK, not quite, but scientists have announced the development of a tractor beam that uses sound waves and X-ray vision using Wifi. Wifi?

According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at the University of Bristol and Public University of Navarre created a sonic tractor beam that uses high-amplitude sound waves to levitate, move and rotate small objects. By “small,” they mean a light plastic ball 4 mm (.15 inch) in diameter. The sound waves came from 64 miniature loudspeakers or transducers that created “acoustic holograms,” according to study author Asier Marzo.

A simple wave will just push the particle in the direction of propagation. However, multiple waves will interfere with each other and create complex, acoustic 3D shapes that exert forces from all directions and keep the particle in place.

tractor beam explained 570x385
Plastic particles being levitated (a-c), held in place from different directions (c-e) and rotated (f) by a sonic tractor beam

In other words, the sound waves formed 3D aural tweezers to pick up the ball, a vortex to levitate it and a box to carry it around in.

Even thought they’re minis, isn’t 64 loudspeakers, well, loud? Marzo says the ultrasound has a frequency of 40 kilohertz, while humans hear at 20 kilohertz or lower.

Can this sonic tractor beam be used to pull in a Klingon warship? Not really. Space is a void where sound can’t travel. It’s primary uses will be inside the space station, where there’s atmosphere, or in medicine, where it could manipulate internal kidney stones without making an incision.


Moving on to X-ray vision, scientists at MIT have developed a way to use Wifi signals to see and identify people through walls. They call the technology RF Capture and it involves capturing Wifi signals bounced off of a human body and reassembling them into a unique “silhouette fingerprint” that allowed them to correctly identify a person on the other side of a wall 90 percent of the time.


They envision this technology eventually being used in so-called “smart houses” to track your every move, anticipate your needs and call for help if you’ve fallen or if an unidentified (or identified) intruder enters the room. Kind of a Wifi Big Brother?

So, a combination of this tractor beam and X-ray vision as they exist today would allow us to see through a wall to identify Captain Kirk in a crowd and save him from imminent danger by picking a mosquito-sized alien off of his neck. Not quite Star Trek yet but it’s a start.

kirk and spock 570x456
No need to use the tractor beam, Captain. I can swat this one.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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