We’re still waiting on the widely available tractor beams promised to us by science fiction, but scientists are getting closer. New technology, developed by researchers from the University of Sussex and the University of Bristol, can move objects using the force of sound.

In a paper published this week in Nature Communications [PDF], the experts describe how they were able to manipulate light objects using what they call "acoustic holograms." The tractor beam was built from a grid of 64 tiny loudspeakers programmed to emit high intensity noises. These sound waves created a kind of "force field” around the object, allowing it to float in place without contact. Adjustments to the speakers were used to rotate small objects and guide them accurately through the space.

The team hopes to create a bigger design in the future. And while it's certainly not a new working concept, it could have many applications in the real world, including use in a “sonic production line” that transports and assembles delicate or sterile materials. It could also also be used in medicine to precisely manipulate drugs into a patient's body. But because the technology relies on vibrations in the air, it unfortunately wouldn't be of much use on the front of a Star Trek-style spaceship.

[h/t: WIRED UK]