Real Life Tractor Beam Can Levitate Objects Using Sound Waves

It may seem straight out of “Star Trek,” but it’s real: Scientists have created a sonic “tractor beam” that can pull, push and pirouette objects that levitate in thin air.

The sonic tractor beam relies on a precisely timed sequence of sound waves that create a region of low pressure that traps tiny objects that can then be manipulated solely by sound waves, the scientists said in a new study.

Though the new demonstration was just a proof of concept, the same technique could be adapted to remotely manipulate cells inside the human body or target the release of medicine locked in acoustically activated drug capsules, said study co-author Bruce Drinkwater, a mechanical engineer at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. [Watch the Tractor Beam Levitate Objects]

Levitating objects
In the past, scientists have used everything from laser beams tosuperconducting magnetic fields to levitate objects. And in 2014, researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland showed that acoustic holograms that act like a tractor beam could theoretically suck in objects.

“They really just showed the force was there; they weren’t able to grab or pull anything,” Drinkwater said.

The principle behind the new system is simple: Sound waves, which are waves of high and

Why Car Hacking Is Nearly Impossible

As scare-tactic journalism goes, it would be hard to beat this past summer’s article about hackers taking remote control of a Wired magazine writer’s car.

“I was driving 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis,” he wrote. “As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission.”

Scary! Hackers can take over our cars! Our lives are at risk!

No, they’re not.

Stories such as these are catnip to mainstream media and the technophobic public. Unfortunately, they leave out or underplay a detail or two that would take most of the air out of the drama: these aren’t just any cars.

In the case of the Wired article, the Jeep belonged to the hackers. They had been working on it for more than a year to figure out how to hack it.*

That’s really a different story.

In February 60 Minutes ran a story about a similar experiment. “Oh, my God,” the correspondent exclaims as her brakes stop working. “That is frightening!”

But would it have been as frightening if she had mentioned that this kind of hack requires a car with cellular

Unsupervised, Mobile and Wireless Brain–Computer Interfaces on the Horizon

Juliano Pinto, a 29-year-old paraplegic, kicked off the 2014 World Cup in São Paulo with a robotic exoskeleton suit that he wore and controlled with his mind. The event was broadcast internationally and served as a symbol of the exciting possibilities of brain-controlled machines. Over the last few decades research into brain–computer interfaces (BCIs), which allow direct communication between the brain and an external device such a computer or prosthetic, has skyrocketed. Although these new developments are exciting, there are still major hurdles to overcome before people can easily use these devices as a part of daily life.

Until now such devices have largely been proof-of-concept demonstrations of what BCIs are capable of. Currently, almost all of them require technicians to manage and include external wires that tether individuals to large computers. New research, conducted by members of the BrainGate group, a consortium that includes neuroscientists, engineers and clinicians, has made strides toward overcoming some of these obstacles. “Our team is focused on developing what we hope will be an intuitive, always-available brain–computer interface that can be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that works with the same amount of subconscious thought that

New technology promises fast, accurate stroke diagnosis

Minutes count when treating stroke, but current diagnostics take as long as three hours, careful lab work, and skilled technicians to arrive at a conclusive diagnosis. Scientists at Cornell University’s Baker Institute for Animal Health have developed a device that helps diagnose stroke in less than ten minutes using a drop of blood barely big enough to moisten your fingertip. Having demonstrated proof of principle, the technology could eventually be expanded and used in point-of-care testing devices to diagnose other conditions in humans and animals, including traumatic brain injury (concussion), some forms of dementia, and even some types of cancer and heart disease. The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

The study’s lead author, author Roy Cohen, a Research Scientist at the Baker Institute, says the technology represents the successful pairing of two big goals in medical diagnostics–small size and simplicity–a combination that means testing could be carried out at a patient’s bedside.

“Three quarters of stroke patients suffer from ischemic stroke — a blockage of a blood vessel in the brain. In those cases, time is of the essence, because there is a good drug available, but for a successful outcome it has to be given within

Should You Surround Yourself With Multiple PC Monitors?

According to a from the University of Utah:

* People using the 24-inch screen completed the tasks 52% faster than people who used the 18-inch monitor
* People who used the two 20-inch monitors were 44% faster than those with the 18-inch ones.
* Productivity dropped off again when people used a 26-inch screen.

This blogger offers his assessment of the value of multiple monitors in easier to digest terms:

Let me be perfectly clear on this matter: more is more. More usable desktop space reduces the amount of time you spend on window management excise. Instead of incessantly dragging, sizing, minimizing and maximizing windows, you can do actual productive work. With a larger desktop, you can spend less time mindlessly arranging information, and more time interacting with and acting on that information. How much that matters to you will depend on your job and working style. Personally, I’d be ecstatic if I never had to size, position, or arrange another damn window for the rest of my life.

5 Cool Mouse Operations You Can Use In Windows

Here are five windows operations that you can use on some occasions with windows or associated software.

1 – Open new links in brand new tabs on Windows Internet Explorer

If your mouse has three buttons – then use the middle one to open new tabs. Hover the mouse pointer over the link and press the mouse wheel to open up new tabs.  All you need to do is place the mouse pointer over a link and then press down on the middle mouse button (the mouse wheel).

The middle mouse button is able to roll forward or back, however, it is also able to be pressed down and clicked just like a button.  If you do this on a link then it will open up that link in a new tab.  This is a lot quicker than pressing right-click and clicking on “open in a new tab.”  It is an easier way to research certain items by simply clicking in order to open new tabs.

If you are feeling the super lazy you can hold CTRL and press Tab to scroll through your tabbed windows – or you can even hold Alt and press Tab to see a screen of windows – which

How to Successfully Execute IT Projects

According to a 2008 Gartner report, 15% of all IT projects failed that year because of high cost variance, while 18% were unsuccessful because they were substantially late.* This means that in 2008, 1 in 3 technology projects failed. Why such a dismal success rate? Such projects primarily involve the management of human resources in order to accomplish the target schedule, cost, and quality, so it is safe to assume that poor resource management played a large role. Unfortunately, without effective resource management processes, such organizations are left asking questions like:

  • “Who is working on what?”
  • “How do I get this project back on schedule?”
  • “How much more work will it take to finish?”

The Problem with IT Projects Today

Resource Management

IT project teams are made up of knowledge workers who are categorized by skill types or job functions. For example, a project team might require business analysts, developers, team leads, project managers, architects, or database analysts. Finding the right person to assign to a project or task can be the most challenging problem confronting the organization. Typically, quality staff is scarce and therefore heavily sought by competing projects. Without resource management processes, the organization struggles with

How Hard Will Yahoo Be Hit Over Fantasy Sports Gambling

Yahoo recently came into the crosshairs of the New York attorney general as part of a growing effort to control (and shut down) fantasy sports gaming on the internet, and it’s unclear how much of a problem it would be for the company if they have to shut down gaming.

FanDuel and Draft Kings have been in the headlines recently as attorney generals across the country are looking to identify daily fantasy sports gaming as gambling.

Here’s the short explanation: daily fantasy sports are getting a lot of attention because they change the language of skill-based play for money (not illegal) to luck-based play for money (illegal). You can learn a ton about the history of sports gambling and these complex issues at play right now from this Sports Illustrated podcast.

Skill-based play is the argument by the sites, because fantasy football is considered to be a game of statistics where the person with the best understand of the numbers stands the best chance to win. Chance is the important word, though.

No matter how many numbers are available for consideration, the truth is that previous performance is not a sound indication of final outcome, because of luck. Luck

Learn New Skills with 25% off E Learning Courses this Cyber Monday

Whether you want to upgrade your CV, or just learn some new digital skills, now is a good time to check out the courses at PopSci Deals. During Cyber Monday, you can save 25% on all things e-learning with code CYBERMONDAY25.

For instance, the Coding 101 Bundle offers eight introductory courses for under $37 with the added discount. Along with HTML, CSS, and Javascript — the fundamentals of the web — you can learn the basics of JQuery, start to code programs in Python and C, and take your first steps in iOS app development.

For those with a solid grasp of the basics, the Cyber Security Developer Course Bundle offers more specialist skills, with a gentle learning curve. This five-course bundle (under $37 with the code) starts with an introduction to IT security, followed by tracks on ethical “white hat” hacking and writing secure PHP code.

If playtime is more your thing, the Zero to Hero Game Developer Bundle provides over 30 hours of tuition — again, under $37 with the code. The seven courses cover iOS and Android development, along with clone project courses and a look at building games in Stencyl.

Finally, the Java Developer Course Bundle is a great option for

What Are You Doing For Thanksgiving Caleb Harper

Caleb Harper is the founder of CityFARM at the MIT Media Lab, a program dedicating to exploring the future of agriculture through “food computing.” Popular Science spoke with him about his Thanksgiving plans for this year.

What are you eating and/or growing for Thanksgiving?

My work involves growing food in environments that we can control with a computer. Imagine a box in which we can create a climate by controlling things like carbon dioxide, oxygen, temperature, humidity, and light. We have sensors running in that box to monitor what’s going on inside, and the computers adjust the variables to the levels we want.

I currently have seven of these little boxes in seven schools throughout Boston. Students from 7th through 11th grade are growing vegetables like mustard greens, kale, basil, and radishes. This week we harvested a bunch of vegetables so the students could take them home for Thanksgiving.

Caleb Harper showing students how controlled environment plant-growing works.

Caleb Harper

It turns out about 90 percent of what we like about the food we eat comes from the environment. People often claim things like the “best strawberries come from Mexico”

Why Does A Drop Of Water Confuse My Touchscreen

Modern touchscreens like the one on an iPhone work by measuring the change in charge and voltage across a grid of hair-thin electrodes, aka capacitance. “When you touch your finger to the screen, it sucks out some of the charge,” says Geoff Wilson, a mobile-technology consultant and former touch technologist at Intel. That’s because your body is made mostly of water, which is extremely conductive. The touchscreen locates your finger on the grid by measuring how much the charge drops between two intersecting electrodes, a process called “mutual capacitance.”

The problem is that drops of sweat or rain can reduce the charge too by providing another conduit between the electrodes. Thankfully, over the past few years, touchscreen engineers have solved the water problem by drawing on a different mode of touch sensing called “self-capacitance.”

Instead of measuring the charge across pairs of electrodes, the touchscreen measures the increase in charge between an individual electrode on the screen and the ground you’re standing on. Because water droplets aren’t grounded, the phone’s firmware is better able to ignore them.

However, this method alone won’t work for most smartphones because it can’t handle multitouch gestures such as pinches and zooms. The signal

Human Traffickers Caught on Hidden Internet

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 and the ensuing debate about counterterrorism efforts and encrypted communications, Scientific American is republishing the following article.

In November 2012 a 28-year-old woman plunged 15 meters from a bedroom window to the pavement in New York City, a devastating fall that left her body broken but alive. The accident was an act of both desperation and hope—the woman had climbed out of the sixth-floor window to escape a group of men who had been sexually abusing her and holding her captive for two days.

Four months ago the New York County District Attorney’s Office sent Benjamin Gaston, one of the men responsible for the woman’s ordeal, to prison for 50-years-to-life. A key weapon in the prosecutor’s arsenal, according to the NYDA’s Office: an experimental set of Internet search tools the U.S. Department of Defense is developing to help catch and lock up human traffickers.

Although the Defense Department and the prosecutor’s office had not publicly acknowledged using the new tools, they confirmed to Scientific American that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Memex program provided advanced Internet search capabilities that helped secure the conviction. DARPA is creating Memex to scour the Internet in

Anonymous’s Cyber War with ISIS Could Compromise Terrorism Intelligence

As French police scoured Paris and surrounding areas in search of those responsible for Friday’s terrorist attacks on the French capital, a group of cyber activists took aim at the Islamic State’s online presence. The computer-hacker federation known as Anonymous claims to have disabled at least 5,500 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts and exposed thousands of the terror group’s supporters who use the social media site.

Anonymous announced its current campaign on November 14, the day after ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) claimed responsibility for murdering at least 129 people and injuring more than 300 in various locations throughout Paris. The hacktivist group released a video that begins with dramatic music and what appears to be images of the Paris attacks. Halfway into the video a person wearing Anonymous’s symbolic Guy Fawkes mask announces that the group is tracking down ISIS members and supporters and then proclaims, “We’ll not give up. We will not forgive. And we’ll do all that is necessary to end their actions.”

Law enforcement and cyber counterterrorism experts generally welcome the digital havoc that groups like Anonymous can wreak on terrorist organizations’ online communication and recruiting efforts. That is, as long as these uncoordinated cyber

What the Tech Companies Want You to Buy–beyond Phones

In my Scientific American column this month I wrote about the ecosystems of the tech world. If you buy all Apple stuff, your phone, tablet and laptop all work together in convenient ways. Same thing if you stick to Google, Microsoft or Amazon.

Month by month, these companies try to clasp the velvet handcuffs tighter, offering more and more goodies to entice us to stay within their ecosystems.

Apple generally keeps its offerings to itself. You can’t shop the iTunes movie or music store on Android machines, for example, nor consult your iCloud calendar on an Android phone (at least not without a shareware utility).

But other companies—the ones that don’t derive most of their income from selling hardware—make their software and services available to their rivals’ecosystems. Most of Google’s apps and services, for example, run happily on Apple’s iPhones.

So I investigated what offerings are available from each company—and which are available to rival platforms.

A “•” indicates that a company offers that product; “-•-” means that it’s available to other companies’ platforms. For example, you can use Google’s online calendar on Apple, Microsoft or Samsung phones, so it gets a “-•-.”

But the “-•-” doesn’t mean that something works on all rival platforms.

The Most Important Number in Climate Change

The furious majesty of a thunderstorm defies computer simulation. In a world divided up into 10,000 square kilometer grids to make the 510 million square kilometer Earth digestible to a computer, a thundercloud that rains over two square kilometers remains too small to properly calculate in a climate simulation—as does even a hurricane like Sandy that sprawled over 280 kilometers of ocean and land in 2012.

Clouds control climate. Even if they could be correctly accounted for in computer simulations, there are all the complexities in the types of clouds, their height in the atmosphere, even the composition and shape of droplets in the cloud. Climate models struggle to simulate hurricanes, some of the biggest cloud systems, let alone lonely streaks of cirrus or a dense, billowing cumulonimbus. How low cooling clouds might form or if such clouds might disappear all together as the climate warms have major impacts on overall global warming.

Among all the numbers commonly bandied about global warming, the most important one in climate change is not 400 (parts-per-million CO2 in the atmosphere), two degrees Celsius (average warming of global temperatures), one trillion tons (of carbon budget), or even $100 billion (in climate adaptation funding per

Unsupervised, Mobile and Wireless Brain–Computer Interfaces on the Horizon

Juliano Pinto, a 29-year-old paraplegic, kicked off the 2014 World Cup in São Paulo with a robotic exoskeleton suit that he wore and controlled with his mind. The event was broadcast internationally and served as a symbol of the exciting possibilities of brain-controlled machines. Over the last few decades research into brain–computer interfaces (BCIs), which allow direct communication between the brain and an external device such a computer or prosthetic, has skyrocketed. Although these new developments are exciting, there are still major hurdles to overcome before people can easily use these devices as a part of daily life.

Until now such devices have largely been proof-of-concept demonstrations of what BCIs are capable of. Currently, almost all of them require technicians to manage and include external wires that tether individuals to large computers. New research, conducted by members of the BrainGate group, a consortium that includes neuroscientists, engineers and clinicians, has made strides toward overcoming some of these obstacles. “Our team is focused on developing what we hope will be an intuitive, always-available brain–computer interface that can be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that works with the same amount of subconscious thought that somebody who is

Attempts to Predict Terrorist Attacks Hit Limits

From France to Nigeria, the world is reeling from a wave of deadly terrorist attacks. As governments scramble to respond, researchers and analysts are attempting to calculate what the terrorism risk is and how it is changing. Such insights are crucial for those trying to foil attacks and for companies that offer insurance against terrorism, but it is neither an easy nor an exact science.

To calculate the risk of attacks, analysts must have access to a system for tracking events that have already happened. That is not straight­forward, in part because terrorism is hard to define—the boundary between crude acts of terrorism and violent insurgencies is blurry.

At the University of Maryland in College Park, Erin Miller oversees an effort to record terrorist events and make the data available to researchers. The group has settled on a definition of terrorism: “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation”. The resulting Global Terrorism Database (GTD) provides insights into how terrorism has changed over the past few decades (see ‘The changing nature of terrorism’).

Overall, it shows that the number of reported events—from targeted assassinations

High-Tech Wavepool Simulates The Worst Ocean Waves

Usually, you have to wait 100 years to see how well infrastructure will hold up in a once-in-a-century storm. But not anymore.

At the University of Maine’s new Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory at the University of Maine, researchers from academia and industry will be able to test new engineering designs against the most intense ocean conditions.

The $13.8-million facility will be able to test models of different technologies in the pool, which has an adjustable floor that can descend to a depth of 16 feet. Models of ships, offshore wind turbines, and wave energy devices will be put through the ringer with simulated waves and winds strong enough to rival powerful hurricanes.

The Bangor Daily News reports that paddles will push water in the pool to heights of 2 feet–the equivalent of a hurricane-sized 125-foot monster wave to a 1:50 scale model of whatever engineering marvel the laboratory decides to test.

Testing scale models in extreme conditions can give engineers a chance to correct flaws before pouring energy and resources into constructing a full-sized structure.

“We’re already getting calls from a lot of wind energy folks. There’s no facility that can do this

Why the FBI Wants “Special Access” to Your Smartphone

Yesterday, FBI Director James Comey told Congress that the federal government was increasingly concerned about the widespread use of data encryption in consumer technology, implying—although not explicitly demanding—that tech companies give law enforcement easier access to cryptographically scrambled customer data. Comey’s testimony came one day after some of the world’s top cybersecurity experts and computer scientists issued a report arguing that the government’s call for special access to encrypted information is technically unfeasible and unworkably vague. Law enforcement officials need to get specific about what they want, the report’s authors argued, instead of simply waving their hands and hoping for a technological unicorn that gives them on-demand access to personal information while also protecting user privacy and securing data.

And this is where the debate gets complicated. Here’s what each side wants and what might happen next:

What is FBI director Comey asking for?

Comey called for a “front-door” approach to customer data access in an October 2014 speech but he was unclear about how this might work outside of a nebulous call for tech companies to build “intercept solutions” into their products. National Security Agency (NSA) Director Michael Rogers proposed something a bit more concrete in April when he suggested that technology

NSA Efforts to Evade Encryption Technology Damaged U.S. Cryptography Standard

In the three months since Edward Snowden began his whistle-blowing campaign against the National Security Agency (NSA) the former government contractor has exposed the agency’s massive online eavesdropping efforts and attempts to circumvent encryption used to secure digital communications. The latest allegations indicate the NSA manipulated and weakened a cryptography standard the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) had issued several years ago.

As a result, NIST last week publicly discouraged tech companies from using that cryptographic approach and promised to give the public an opportunity to weigh in on a revised standard. The fix may not be all that difficult—the tainted part of the standard is a highly inefficient algorithm that security experts identified as a problem long ago. In fact, the biggest mystery, those experts say, is why the NSA thought any company or government agency would willingly use that particular algorithm to protect their data. “It certainly wasn’t inserted into the standard with the intention of making an efficient algorithm available to the community,” says Ari Juels, chief scientist of computer storage provider EMC’s RSA security division.

The NIST Special Publication 800-90 cryptography standard includes four different algorithms—called “deterministic random bit generators,” or DRBGs—for encoding data. The algorithm

Sex Seniors Find Answers Online

Research suggests that a growing number of seniors continue to be sexually active, and in doing so, they stay healthier and happier. Although seniors are often hesitant to discuss intimate issues with their doctors, a new study suggests that older adults have been turning to online communities to get the answers and support they need from one another.

Sexual activity among older adults is commonplace—more than half of men and one third of women in their 70s, some married and some not, reported having sex at least twice a month in a 2015 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior. (Scientific American Mind is part of Springer Nature.) But it can be complicated. Medical conditions that arise with advancing age, such as diabetes and heart disease, can affect sex drive and performance. Widows and widowers who start dating again later in life may not know how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases or how to approach a new partner. Making matters worse, ageist stereotypes—such as the idea that seniors are “too old for sex”—can make it difficult for older adults to get answers.

A 2011 review of the research literature concluded that not only do older adults seldom raise