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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Human ingenuity knows no bounds and the world’s mini “flying carpet” is proof of that.

 

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In the past year we’ve seen dramatic improvements in the development of both light and sound based tractor beams that can make objects dance in mid air and even be used to thread needles which, as the researchers behind these innovations say, could one day be used in robot surgeries. And now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have managed to levitate two small plastic plates using just light.

 

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With the energy from a set of bright LEDs in a vacuum chamber, the team coaxed two tiny Mylar plates to hover — a bona fide breakthrough, Wired reports, because scientists have never before been able to cause an object that large to float using light alone.

 

Miniature flying carpets for miniature people

 

“When the two samples lifted, there was a gasp between all four of us,” UPenn engineering doctoral candidate Mohsen Azadi told the magazine.

 

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However, if you’re hoping to pick up a light-powered magic carpet from Amazon anytime soon you’ll have to keep waiting because the team are more interested in using this technology to research the mesosphere, a high-up region of the atmosphere that’s notoriously difficult to study.

“Sometimes it’s called ignorosphere, in joke,” Igor Bargatin, a mechanical engineering professor at UPenn, told Wired. “We just don’t have access to it. You can send a rocket for a few minutes at a time, but that’s very different from doing measurements using airplanes or balloons.”

 

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With the recent breakthrough, though, researchers hope to develop a flight system that can carry tiny sensors into the mesosphere using the light-powered hovering technology.

Even NASA is interested in the technology’s potential applications in Mars research — especially since the pressure in the Red Planet’s atmosphere is similar to Earth’s mesosphere, leaving open the possibility that tiny, light-powered levitators could help collect temperature and composition data.

“You can just take off once per day, and go up and then come back down and land on your little Martian lander,” said Paul Newman, chief scientist of Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “We don’t have that information on Mars. That would be fantastic.”

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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