The Telegraph newspaper has reported that engineers from the University of Bristol are developing a device that “is capable of moving and manipulating objects using only ultrasonic sound waves”, which was inspired by the sonic screwdriver.
Professor Bruce Drinkwater said: “We have developed a device that allows us to use ultrasonic forces to move small objects like biological cells around to sort them or to assemble them. We are using quite low forces to do this because we don’t want to damage the objects we are moving, but the technology is definitely real and there is potential to turn it into something like Dr Who’s sonic screwdriver. If we can increase the ultrasonic force and create a rotational force, then we could potentially undo screws. Essentially what you are doing is using the ultrasonic sound wave to twirl the air around to create a miniature tornado.
There are a number of things that we can do to increase the force that can be applied. We would need to get the air moving extremely fast to apply enough force to a screw, but we could inject a dense gas into the area around the screw head as it would produce more friction. It has been the miniaturisation of the technology needed that has allowed us to produce the sonotweezers (the prototype device they have created).
The sonic screwdriver may still be sometime in the making but ultrasonic technology is already making its mark in the medical and manufacturing arenas with some exciting results.”