I have always been impressed with projects that seem like science fiction but can actually be accomplished. This week I came across a recent scientific breakthrough in levitation. I have experimented with magnetic levitation myself in the past and found it to be fascinating. Magnetic levitation is easy to see as possible just by with a couple of magnets, you cannot make the like pole touch. The new development in levitation technologies uses sound waves to levitate objects.

Scientists have known for a few years now that it is possible to use sound waves to levitate objects, but it is not easy. Sound waves require a direct path with nothing between the object and the source of the waves. Getting objects to levitate has never been the hardest part of the puzzle to solve. Keeping the object levitating when in a normal environment where interference can occur is the real problem. Using 3D levitation allows scientist to create incredible displays that can be touched without augmented reality gear, but the interference problem has to be solved to make this possible.

It is possible today to make an object float in 3D space with sound waves. The object will float in the center of a sealed display case and can be observed from all angles. It is even possible through manipulation of the waves to rotate the object in any direction, but it is impossible to reach into the display and touch the object. The current technology will not even allow the case to be touched without causing the display to fall.

Researchers from University College London developed a new system utilizing multiple speakers to adjust the acoustic waves in real time making it possible to interact with the floating object. Using multiple speakers and a more robust algorithm for generating the levitation wave allows the system to self-correct when something blocks part of the sound waves from reaching the object.

Dr. Ryuji Hirayama, the lead scientist on the project, said, “ Until now, we’ve only been able to demonstrate acoustic levitation for virtual reality and holograms in controlled environments without any other objects nearby that could interrupt and scatter soundwaves. In this paper, we’ve shown how we can float objects and even create digital content such as holograms in real-world environments by accounting for nearby objects in real-time. It opens up the possibilities for fully immersive virtual reality experiences and interactive holograms.”

We get closer everyday to reaching the reality of Star Trek like technologies. Being able to control physical objects in 3D space remotely via sound-waves make the Holodeck seem like a possible future interactive platform. If you don’t know what the Holodeck is, there is an excellent article not only describing the Holodeck, but the technology needed to create one, at https://www.startrek.com/news/begin-program-the-reality-of-building-a-holodeck-today

Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.

Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to shamilton@techshepherd.org or through his website at http://www.techshepherd.org

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