back to article ANU boffins demo 'tractor beam' in water

The Starship Enterprise won't be deploying a tractor beam in space any time soon, but in what could be a boon for people trying to control oil spills, Australian National University physicists have created a tractor beam in water with simple wave generators. Their demonstration (video at the bottom) shows the ANU boffins …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up


    Exploiting longitudinal waves in water seems a very under studied area of science to me.

    A while back a team worked out that you could focus water waves on a tidal power site by simply sticking a pattern of posts in the water. Effectively creating a watery phased array system.

    Thumbs up for this and a hope it becomes available for the next big spill.

    1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

      Re: Neat.

      You can do quite interesting things with water waves - even make an expanding ripple pattern reform back down to a point again ... and again and gain and again.

    2. Michael Habel Silver badge

      The Glass half full...

      Wouldn't it be better to NOT hope for... The next big spill... to ever happen?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Glass half full...

        Really, you're advocating for wishing over research into mitigation for something we all know will happen again?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: advocating for wishing over research

          ... well, it is a strategy widely used by at least one side of the anthropogenic climate change debate :-)

  2. Christoph

    That works fine in a tank of still water. But they seem to generate the wave patterns by moving a block in the water. What happens when they try to collect oil in the open sea? They have to somehow allow for the existing waves when moving their generator. Not impossible but very tricky, especially sensing just what those waves are doing in time to modify their generator's movements.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not *that* tricky, you just have floats to move blocks in line with the waves. As long as they are short enough sections the should be possible.

      Alternatively you could produce the waves using a sound generator perhaps.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No, not a sound generator if you want any fish/sea life to stay alive. I'd hate to know the size and DB required for sound that loud to move "waves". :O

        Moving blocks/buoys though have a much more easily survivable waveform.

    2. DB_lanky

      I was wondering along the same lines, in particular how much this relies on the standing waves that are formed due to the tank shape, maybe you could use multiple generators. Should probably hunt down their paper on it...

    3. Bush_rat


      Once they can get the theory and formulae down pat all they need to do is just add more compute power to allow for more complicated real-time calculations.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    So, the Empire starts in Australia

    We are now on the first step of tractor beam technology. We just might be on the verge of fuel-less propulsion drives for space travel. All we need active shields to complete the picture, and Future Space here we come* !

    *served with loads and loads of optimism

    1. John H Woods

      Re: So, the Empire starts in Australia

      + space elevator so we can get all that stuff up out of the gravity well ...

      1. Kaltern

        Re: So, the Empire starts in Australia

        Never understood the difficulty of making a space elevator... just get an old satellite, tie a bit of heatproofed rope to it and jump off back to Earth - tie to post - job done. How hard can it be? *insert troll face here*

        1. itzman

          Re: So, the Empire starts in Australia

          In principle it is that simple.

          In practice things like the weight of the rope and issues with moving weights up and down it and its strength come into play.

          1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

            Re: So, the Empire starts in Australia

            Never spoil a perfect operational plan with sordid considerationa of reality.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        + Space elivator...

        Who needs a space elevator when you generate [anti] gravitational waves to levitate! :D

  4. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "to create the currents needed to control the balls"

    In Central America they wire a car battery to the prisoner's balls....

  6. Smitty Werbenjaegermanjensen

    Oh dear god

    that background music...

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