NASA Researching Real-Life Tractor Beams

By Sam Gibbs on at

This one is straight out of the annals of Star Trek -- NASA wants to make tractor beams a reality using lasers. They want to trap and pull in small samples remotely, and its not quite as farfetched as it sounds.

You might be surprised to learn that we already have methods of manipulating objects just with light. It's on the micro-scale, but optical tweezers work by using rings of light to heat air molecules, which in turn traps a particle in the center and allows researchers to move it about. Other techniques including optical solenoid beams and bessel beams have also been suggested as feasible.

NASA has pumped over £60,000 into a study of the three possible ways, with an aim to replace manual, costly sample collection. Who knows, in the future tow trucks might be able to haul your broken-down car back to the garage without having to resort to cables. [NASA via ZDnet]