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Sonic tractor beam goes to Hollywood

Asier Marzo with some of the cast from Zoolander 2, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell 7 y accion

Press release issued: 3 February 2016

University of Bristol research assistant Asier Marzo demonstrated the world’s first sonic tractor beam to Hollywood actors Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell on the Spanish TV programme El Hormiguero.

El Hormiguero focuses on comedy, science, and guest interviews. The American actors were on the programme promoting their new film Zoolander 2.

The sonic tractor beam, which can lift and move objects using sound waves, was built by researchers from Bristol and Sussex universities in collaboration with the University spin-off Ultrahaptics. The Bristol Ultrasonics and Non-destructive Testing (NDT) group is led by Professor Bruce Drinkwater, and the Sussex Interact Lab by Professor Sriram Subramanian.

Asier Marzo said: “It was amazing seeing Derek Zoolander actually levitating an object with his Blue Steel pose, however, now it is time to focus on the applications.”

The technique, published in Nature Communications last autumn, could be developed for a wide range of applications, for example a sonic production line could transport delicate objects and assemble them, all without physical contact.  On the other hand, a miniature version could grip and transport drug capsules or microsurgical instruments through living tissue to enable new medical procedures.


'Holographic acoustic elements for manipulation of levitated objects' by Asier Marzo, Sue Ann Seah, Bruce W. Drinkwater, Deepak Ranjan Sahoo, Benjamin Long and Sriram Subramanian, published in Nature Communications.

Further information

Sriram Subramanian was formerly Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Bristol and is now Professor of Informatics at the University of Sussex.

The sonic tractor beam work has been supported by the EC within the seventh framework programme through both the European Research Council (starting grant agreement 278576) and the FET Open Scheme (under grant agreement no. 309191).

About Ultrahaptics
Ultrahaptics, based in Bristol, UK, is the world’s leading touchless haptics company. Their unique technology brings the sense of touch to touchless interfaces, creating the magical experience of feeling without touching.

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