Back to the future: CUHK team unveils new levitation technology

October 10, 2017 14:43
CUHK Professor Guo Ping demonstrates the actuator, a device that uses acoustic levitation technology to move and carry objects without touching the ground. Photo: HKEJ

Remember the flying skateboard in the 1985 movie Back to the Future? Or the flying carpet in the Disney animation film Aladdin?

They may be fantasy or science fiction today, but a research team from the Chinese University of Hong Kong has unveiled a device using a new technology that could make them a reality in the near future.

The team, led by Prof. Guo Ping, assistant professor at the CUHK Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering, on Monday demonstrated how the actuator, which uses acoustic levitation technology, floats and carries objects from one place to another, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

According to Guo, an actuator can reach the speed of 2.5 centimeters per second and is capable of transporting an object weighing 200 grams, roughly the weight of a smartphone. Its power consumption stands at only 1.2 watts, or that of a small light bulb.

Over the past 18 months, the team is striving to improve the technology with the goal of making it capable of moving objects weighing 3-5 kilograms in one to two years’ time.

The longer-term goal is to make it capable of moving objects weighing 60-70 kg or even transporting humans.

In the short run, the technology can be adopted in toys, but can be further developed for magnetic levitation vehicles.

Guo is hoping that the new technology can be used for public transportation in ten years’ time, reported.

Basically, the device makes use of the piezoelectric effect, or electric charge generated by certain materials in response to applied mechanical stress, achieving two vibration modes with an identical frequency to create a vibration, which in turn provides vertical levitation as well as propulsion force. 

As a result,the actuator moves levitates over a flat surface without any contact. 

The cost of manufacturing an actuator is only HK$500, although it could go down further in mass production.

So far, one drawback of the technology is that is allows for only a limited height of levitation, and movement can only be done on smooth surfaces. 

As such, there may be a need to install a propeller for the actuator to accelerate or climb a slope.

The research team will hold public demonstrations of the actuator at the CUHK booth at the InnoCarnival 2017, which will be held at the Hong Kong Science Park from 21 to 29 October.

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