Sonic That!


“Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks “oooh, that could be a little more sonic”?”

The power of sound waves has been greatly underestimated throughout human history. Oh,we  can admire the power in a great orator,or opera singer, but beyond that sound is a feeble thing, unable to affect the physical world around us.

Or so we have been lead to believe. In reality sound waves contain vibrations–one of the most versatile and useful forces known. Vibrations can cause the tumblers of a door to unlock, or it can cause physical sensations giving the illusion of a hologram.

On the grand list of things we were promised would happen in the future but haven’t come about yet, probably the two most important are holograms and force fields (followed closely by teleportation and interstellar flight, but I’m afraid sonic waves aren’t going to help much with those). Both of these concepts have been envisioned by science fiction writers for decades, and both seem as impossible as breathing water.

But are they really?

acoustic-levitation-01For several years now scientists have been working on acoustic levitation. While they can’t levitate very much, the system certainly works. Using the vibrations of sound waves they can suspend small objects (such as beads or drops of water) in mid-air, and they can even move them around using a checker-board of acoustic emitters. You can see it in action in this video.

Forcefields are a trickier matter, but still possible. If acoustics can provide the force to lift something up into the air, then they can also provide the force to keep it there, or to prevent something from moving into a certain area. And thanks to the rapid advances in motion tracking software, you can cover as large of an area as you like.`

The downside to forcefields as a practical defensive tool has always been the practicality of powering something that huge. But if you’re guarding against missile strikes or the catapults of an angry mob you don’t need an entire shield all the time. You only need it where the arrow is going to strike at the time it strikes. If you don’t believe that motion tracking is that accurate, or that it can communicate that fast, here’s a robotic trash can that catches your trash no matter where you throw it.

Ultrahaptics-640x353So now that we have forcefields, and levitation to boot, what about holograms? Do they really exist? Apparently, yes. Using ultrasonic sound waves, researchers can create a holographic image that can be seen as disturbances in the air. But what’s even cooler is that this holograph can be touched. Because sound waves produce vibrations, and the human touch is sensitive to vibrations, these holograms can use motion track technology to sense when a hand is being moved through the hologram and produce a tactile sensation to match was the subject is seeing. Not just Star Wars holograms, people. We could make holodecks.

The potential of acoustics are just beginning to be explored, and there is no way to predict what our future might hold. Don’t underestimate the power of sonic.

Flourish 1


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