Ultrasonic levitation rig.

Phased Array Levitation Is Science In Action

Levitation may seem like magic. However, for certain objects, and in certain conditions, it’s actually a solved technology. If you want to move small particles around or do experiments with ultrasonic haptic feedback, you might find SonicSurface to be a useful platform for experimentation.

The build comes to us from [UpnaLab], and is no small feat of engineering. It packs in 256 ultrasonic emitters in a 16×16 grid, with individual phase control across the entire panel. This allows for the generation of complex ultrasonic wave fields over the SonicSurface board. Two boards can be paired together in a vertically opposed configuration, too. This allows the levitation of tiny particles in 3D space.

As you might expect, an FPGA is pressed into service to handle the heavy lifting – in this case, an Altera CoreEP4CE6. Commands are sent to the SonicSurface by a USB-to-serial connection from an attached PC.

The board is largely limited to the levitation of small spherical pieces of foam, with the ultrasonic field levitating them in midair. However, the project video shows how these tiny pieces of foam can be attached to threads, tapes, and other objects in order to manipulate them with the ultrasonic array.

It may not be a simple project, but it serves as a great basis for your own levitation experiments. Of course, if you want to start smaller, that’s fine too. If you come up with any great levitation breakthroughs of your own, be sure to let us know.

Building An Ultrasonic Levitation Rig

Levitation may sound like magic, but there are a wide variety of physical phenomena that can be manipulated to generate the desired effect. In this case, [Mirko Pavleski] has built a rig capable of levitating small, lightweight particles through the use of ultrasound.

The rig uses a 60W ultrasonic transducer, operating at approximately 40 KHz, to generate a standing wave in combination with a reflector – essentially a rigid piece of material off which sound waves can be bounced. The interaction between the sound waves as they are emitted from the transducer and bounce off the reflector creates what is known as a standing wave, wherein there are areas of high and low amplitude that do not move in space. These areas correspond to the wavelength of the emission from the transducer, and allow lightweight pieces of styrofoam to be placed in to the low amplitude areas, where they are held in place by the wave.

It’s quite astounding the first time you see it in action, as the tiny particles appear to simply float in the air apropos of nothing. We’ve explored deeper applications of the technique before, too. Video after the break.

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Eye-Catching And Crumb-Suspending

Printed circuit boards used to be green or tan, and invariably hidden. Now, they can be artful, structural, and like electronic convention badges, they are the entire project. In this vein, we find Open LEV, a horseshoe-shaped desktop bauble bristling with analog circuitry supporting an acoustic levitator. [John Loefler] is a mechanical engineer manager at a college 3D printing lab in Florida, so of course, he needs to have the nerdiest stuff on his workspace. Instead of resorting to a microcontroller, he filled out a parts list with analog components. We have to assume that the rest of his time went into making his PCB show-room ready. Parts of the silkscreen layer are functional too. If you look closely at where the ultrasonic transducers (silver cylinders) connect, there are depth gauges to aid positioning. Now that’s clever.

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72 Tranducers For Acoustic Levitation

Levitation has a way of arousing curiousity and wonder wherever it appears. There’s a multitude of ways to do it, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and ideal use cases. [Julius Kramer] tried his hand at acoustic levitation, and decided to share his build.

The build relies on an astounding number of ultrasonic transducers – 72, in fact. The device operates at 40 kHz to be well above the human range of hearing. 36 each are placed in the top and bottom shells of the device’s 3D printed chassis. Through careful construction, the transducers are placed an integer multiple of half the wavelength apart. This allows the device to create a standing wave, with several low-energy nodes in which small objects can be levitated. In this case, [Julius] uses small scraps of styrofoam, but notes that water droplets can also be used if one is careful to avoid spilling any on the electronics.

The transducers are energised with a square wave generated by an Arduino Nano. This allows the possibility of the frequency and phase of the wave to be altered, which can help tune the device and allow some movement in the vertical axis. Unfortunately, movement in the other axes isn’t possible as the transducers appear to be connected in parallel. However, this could be a good upgrade in a later revision.

This project shows that a device relying on incredibly precise measurement and control can now be constructed at home with a 3D printer and some off the shelf electronics.

Now that you’ve whet your whistle, perhaps you’d like to tackle laser levitation?

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]


Floating Ants And Drops Of Liquid With An Acoustic Levitator

Amuse your friends, amaze your enemies, and perplex ants and other insects, insofar as they are capable of perplexment. Accomplish all this and more with this handy dandy homebrew acoustic levitator.

Before anyone gets to thinking about using this technique to build a hoverboard that actually hovers, it’s best that you scale your expectations way, way down. Still, being able to float drops of liquid and small life forms is no mean feat, and looks like a ton of fun to boot. [Asier Marzo]’s Instructable’s post fulfills a promise he made when he first published results for what the popular press then breathlessly dubbed a “tractor beam,” which we covered back in January. This levitator clearly has roots in the earlier work, what with 3D-printed hemispherical sections bristling with ultrasonic transducers all wired in phase. A second section was added to create standing acoustic waves in the middle of the space, and as the video below shows, just about anything light enough and as least as cooperative as an ant can be manipulated in the Z-axis.

There’s plenty of room to expand on [Asier]’s design, and probably more practical applications than annoying bugs. Surface-mount devices are pretty tiny — perhaps an acoustic pick and place is possible?

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JOLED – A 3D Flip Dot Display

Flip-Dot displays are so awesome that they’re making a comeback. But awesome is nothing when you can have an insane flip-dot display that is three-dimensional with the dots floating in mid-air. Researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Bristol have built what they call JOLED, an array of floating pixels that can be controlled via a combination of ultrasonic standing waves and an electrostatic field. These “voxels” can be individually moved in space via ultrasonics, and can also be individually flipped or rotated through any angle, via the electrostatic field.

The key to the whole thing is something they call Janus Objects – hence JOLED. Janus particles have different features or chemistry on two opposite sides. A portion of each voxel is speckled with a small amount of titanium dioxide nano powder. This gives it a bipolar charge that makes it respond to the variable electrostatic field and hence capable of axial rotation. Half of each white voxel can then be covered with a contrasting color – red, blue, black – to achieve the flip dot effect. Each voxel appears to be a couple of millimeters in diameter. The ultrasonic actuators appear to be regular piezo transmitters found in every hacker’s parts bin. Transparent glass plates on opposite sides apply the variable electrostatic field.

While this is still experimental and confined to the research lab, future applications would be interesting. It would be like breaking e-ink displays out of their flat glass confines and giving them a third dimension. The short, two-minute video after the break does a good job of explaining what’s going on, so check it out. Now, who want’s to be the first to build a JOLED clock?

Thanks to [Garrow] for tipping us off about this.

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Even If I Could Take Off, I Could Never Get Past The Tractor Beam!

Finally our childhood dreams of a working tractor beam are coming to fruition! It’s called acoustic levitation and it actually uses highly concentrated sound waves to float small objects by essentially creating an acoustic force field.

The concept is nothing new, in fact we first covered it back in 2014 — but since then they’ve made leaps and bounds in their research. Back then they could just levitate dust. Now we’re moving onto small objects, like googly-eyes! It’s perceivable that with powerful enough speakers, larger objects will soon be harnessed…

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