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Dr. Who's Sonic Screwdriver a Step Closer To Reality 94

Posted by samzenpus
from the daleks-are-coming dept.
cylonlover writes "A University of Dundee research team led by Prof. Mike MacDonald has demonstrated that both levitation and twisting forces can be applied to an object by application of ultrasonic beams. The team of physicists at the University of Dundee in Scotland (with associates at Bristol University in England) have succeeded in generating an ultrasonic vortex beam strong enough to lift and rotate a rubber disk submerged in water. This latest breakthrough is part of a wide-ranging U.K. research effort to develop a device not unlike the "sonic screwdriver" made famous by the TV series Doctor Who." We covered the beginning of the sonic screwdriver project by Bristol University engineers a little over a year ago.
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Dr. Who's Sonic Screwdriver a Step Closer To Reality

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  • too bad.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    To bad the sonic screwdriver got turned into a "Magic Wand" in the new series. Now it does anything the writers want it to do.

    • Re:too bad.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ThunderBird89 (1293256) <zalanmeggyesi&yahoo,com> on Monday April 30, 2012 @12:02PM (#39846077)

      It was a magic wand in the old series too, after a time. That's exactly why it got written out after a while, resulting in the Fifth Doctor going "hands free", as Tenant put it.

      • No it wasn't. In the old series it was strictly a screw driver. It could emit a sonic pulse but that was it. The doctor actually had other tools he used, like a spanner.
    • Re:too bad.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Monday April 30, 2012 @01:58PM (#39847737)

      That is always a problem with Science Fiction. You have a writing paradox where the man from the future/advanced race. Has technology far exceeding our normal understanding, however if you use such technology you are using techno-babble to solve your plots.

      Lets say you have a Multi-Tool and you are thrown back to the Stone age Cave man. In their mindset your Multi-tool may not seem like a threatening object, small leather pouch. Compared to the Large clubs, and spears with sharp (largish) arrow heads this collapsed multi-tool may not seem like a threat, and say you are locked into a wooden cage. You could just use the saw attachment to cut the wood and your free. If this was a stone age science fiction it would be like you multi-tool has a tool for every situation.

      • by lgw (121541)

        It's not really a problem: you establish upfront the kinds of things it can and can't do, and stick by that. That's exactly what distinguishes Science Fiction form Science Fantasy (and the flipside, whatever they call it: stories where magic has well-defined rules).

    • by Livius (318358)

      It's disappointing the way the writers abuse it, but to be fair, if you had any piece of technology and upgraded it continuously for a few hundred years, it would like magic compared to the original version.

      Kind of like a modern cell phone that is a phone/personal computer/camera/video camera/GPS system and calling it a quill because that was what you originally had in the 15th century when you started..

  • by scrib (1277042) on Monday April 30, 2012 @11:54AM (#39845969)

    I bet THEIR Sonic Screwdriver works on WOOD!

  • In the series the screwdriver can do just about anything as long as it's not wood that it's working on (or some biological stuff). The good Doctor uses it to do just about everything. I seriously doubt we have the ability to create a magical device that can by pointing at a computer made by an alien species do what we want.

    • by Jiro (131519) on Monday April 30, 2012 @12:04PM (#39846097)

      This is a case of feature creep.

      In Fury from the Deep it was used to open things--exactly how you'd expect a futuristic, but single purpose, device to work. He uses it to weld in the Dominators, which is the start of it getting extra properties. The War Games again uses it to open things, but it became an out of control plot device soon after that.

      That's why they destroyed it in the Visitation. The new series brought it back and it seemed to have been an out of control plot device from the very start.

      • by Theovon (109752)

        As much as they want to call it "Sci Fi," Doctor Who is fantasy, and the sonic screwdriver is nothing short of a magic wand.

        The whole of Series 5 should have clinched that for anyone paying attention. In order to save the universe, the Doctor had to reboot it, requiring him to cease to exist, although he could be brought back as soon as Amy remembered him? It was even openly admitted that it was a Fairy Tail. This isn't sci fi. As soon as you let go of that, you can start to enjoy it again, like pure fa

        • by Jiro (131519)

          That especially bothered me because in "Turn Left" we saw what actually would happen if the Doctor ceases to exist. Each problem he wasn't there to fix just made things worse and worse. But now suddenly he ceases to exist and everything's fine?

      • by s_p_oneil (795792)

        Next they'll make it talk so it can say "Damnit Doctor, I'm a screwdriver, not a blow-torch!"

    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Monday April 30, 2012 @12:16PM (#39846237) Journal

      Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      In case you haven't noticed, most science fiction TV is really fantasy fiction.

      The things they do on shows like Who and Star Trek and Stargate are impossible in the real world, just like Harry Potter is impossible. The only show that could be called Science fiction is Babylon 5, though it too made some errors (the whitestar measured -400 celsius temperature on Jupiter). It's hard to make real honest-to-goodness science-based stories, especially on a TV schedule with one episode filmed every 10 days.

      • by s73v3r (963317) <s73v3r @ g m a i l.com> on Monday April 30, 2012 @12:49PM (#39846665)

        That's because they're not really supposed to be science based. Any good science fiction is about the people involved, not the technology. The tech is just a backdrop.

        • by cpu6502 (1960974)

          The technology may be the backdrop but it's supposed to be realistic. Imagine a science fiction story set in the present, and it had Americans simply teleporting themselves to work by saying, "I want to go to work." That's not science; that's not reality or even possible. It's fantasy fiction.

          The whole point of SCIENCE-based fiction is to put the emphasis on making an imaginary world that couls exist in the real world. That's why scifi is often predictive of future events. (Whereas junk like Harry Pott

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            Any "sci-fi" set in the present would either be better classified as "fantasy", or perhaps "alternate reality" (parallel universe). The point of sci-fi is that it's in the future, and we have no idea what technology will look like then. We can make some educated guesses, but if you go far enough into the future, it's easy to explain away just about anything that seems impossible. Just because we think something is physically impossible now doesn't mean it really is; not so long ago, everyone thought heav

            • So Stargate and Fringe aren't Sci-Fi?
              (even if Fringe is *BAD* sci-fi sometimes)
              Where'd you get the idea that it had to take place in The Future? What about stories that are purely psychological or sociological in nature?
              • by Grishnakh (216268)

                I'm not really sure how a story that's purely psychological or sociological qualifies as "sci-fi", rather than simply "drama". Just because psych and sociology are sciences doesn't make a story "sci-fi"; the term doesn't mean just any science, it's normally associated with the future, yet-to-be-invented technologies, aliens & spaceships, etc. Ask some random stranger on the street if a movie about sociology set in the present day is "sci-fi" and he'll say "no".

                You make a good case with Stargate and Fr

            • by cpu6502 (1960974)

              >>>The point of sci-fi is that it's in the future

              Stupidest comment of the week. There's a lot of science fiction set in the present, or even some in the past (such as explaining how Jack the Ripper was actually an alien doing a brief Earth visit/experiment).

              The thing that separates *science* fiction from *fantasy* fiction is that the first can happen in the real world, while the second can not. This is self-evident in the very naming of each genre.

          • by cstacy (534252)

            The technology may be the backdrop but it's supposed to be realistic. Imagine a science fiction story set in the present, and it had Americans simply teleporting themselves to work by saying, "I want to go to work." That's not science; that's not reality or even possible. It's fantasy fiction.

            Not into telecommuting, are you? "I want to go to work in my underwear!" works all the time for me..

          • by rubycodez (864176)
            realistic? meaning having impressive sounding techno-babble? lovable androids? cuddly wookies and critters? Jordi, make me a tachyon phase modulator, and have it done and solving our problem in an hour less commercial breaks. Can't think of a plot this week, no problem says the writers, holodeck and/or Q time!
            no popular science fiction series is in any way realistic, it's all impossible fantasy and nonsense, and all unscientific in the extreme.
    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      Detecting then not working on biological stuff would be good. Intense ultrasound kills cells. Ok, apoptosis (the cells commit suicide).

  • by Old97 (1341297) on Monday April 30, 2012 @11:55AM (#39845981)
    I'm holding out for K9.
  • I've not heard of "ultrasonic vortex beams" before (props to whoever came up with that name). What would the maximum weight of the levitated object be before the ultrasonic effects started to become destructive, or is that not even a problem? Could we levitate a car (for example), or is this limited to very cool but not very useful lab experiments like superconductor levitation is right now?

  • Pedantic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday April 30, 2012 @12:00PM (#39846049) Homepage

    Sorry, I'm going to be a little pedantic here, but the sonic screwdriver doesn't really have any set of capabilities to emulate. Something like the tricorder at least has some vague definition-- it's a set of sensors that can tell you about the material composition and structure of items at a distance.

    But the sonic screwdriver? How the device works is something like, "point it at anything in order to get the writers out of the corner they've painted themselves into". There's nothing that it can not do, except apparently that it doesn't work on wood. How are you going to build that, and how will you know when you've succeeded?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      How the device works is something like, "point it at anything in order to get the writers out of the corner they've painted themselves into". There's nothing that it can not do, except apparently that it doesn't work on wood. How are you going to build that, and how will you know when you've succeeded?

      I have no idea, but sign me the f*** up! I'd love to own one!

    • "point it at anything in order to get the writers out of the corner they've painted themselves into"

      It's called a plot device [wikipedia.org] in the industry.

      Reality isn't one of it's strong points.

    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)

      Implying the the Name of the Device does not contain any form of description encoded in it's meaning.
      IMHO, "Sonic Screwdriver" is far more descriptive of the device's workings and operation than "Tricorder" is.

      But please, don't let me dissuade you from thinking that they are working feverishly to make a device that does everything that it's fictional TV Show counterpart did.

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      Personally, I've been wanting a good electric screwdriver for a long time, and I wish someone would invent such a device. There've been many lame attempts at making electric screwdrivers over the past 10-20 years, but they've all sucked: they're huge and heavy, and turn incredibly slowly, and have little torque. I want something that's no bigger than my little ratcheting screwdriver (fits in my hand), has variable speed controllable by pressure, and can turn as fast as an air impact wrench can zip off lug

    • by skine (1524819)

      To be even more pedantic, it is a Magic Tool.

  • It chases away vermin with its ultrasonic screeching.
  • Sci-Fi aside (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday April 30, 2012 @12:08PM (#39846125) Homepage Journal
    It's still pretty damn cool. I mean, c'mon - moving shit with sound? I can see this tech coming in handy for shipwreck recovery, among other applications I haven't thought of yet...

    Wonder how well it works outside a liquid medium...
    • You could ask your eardrums how well moving things with sound works in a less dense fluid...

      I suspect that the mathematical trickery required to get sound waves to push an object in a concerted way, rather than just bouncing around chaotically, was a fair trick; but (normally trivial) moving things is what makes sound sound like sound.
      • You could ask your eardrums how well moving things with sound works in a less dense fluid...

        Not what I meant, pretty sure you know that... however, if not, allow me to clarify: move big objects. Like steel girders or something else practical.

        I suspect that the mathematical trickery required to get sound waves to push an object in a concerted way, rather than just bouncing around chaotically, was a fair trick; but (normally trivial) moving things is what makes sound sound like sound.

        Remember that all sound is really just a wavelength, and thus manipulation is a matter of adjusting frequency and amplitude... There probably is some arithmetical alchemy in pulsing the waves just the right way to achieve the desired result, but surely it's not all that complex.

        I recall an experiment in which researchers were able to create patterns in a sand

    • With such a tremendous amount of actually useful and interesting research work sitting around waiting to be done, I think pursuing this, largely because it reminds people of their favorite SF series, is kind of a misuse of resources. Just sayin'.

      P.S. I absolutely CANNOT see this coming in handy for shipwreck recovery. What is really handy for shipwreck recovery is a ship with a winch and a really long cable.

  • "And with Three settings! " +1 Master of Geekdom to whomever identifies this quote first. ;-)

    .

    "I've been wanting to get my hands on one of these female models. And look I've got a pair of Dalek bumps too." - "Those aren't bumps doctor....."

  • SONIC screwdriver? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haedrian (1676506) on Monday April 30, 2012 @12:23PM (#39846311)

    "Dr. Who's Sonic Screwdriver a Step Closer To Reality"

    "application of ultrasonic beams"

    Surely what we're making here is an ultrasonic screwdriver.

    • "Dr. Who's Sonic Screwdriver a Step Closer To Reality"

      "application of ultrasonic beams"

      Surely what we're making here is an ultrasonic screwdriver.

      It turns things.

      -Jon

    • Dr. Who brushes over technical details with a generalized summation, at least they did it more in the older series. The new series has some Star Trek nerd BS that rubbed off on it where they feel the need to explain more detailed BS while in the old shows they rarely went into any more detail than necessary to the story. They were/are also more realistic in the sense that some expert (in a hurry) describes things to laymen in a simple metaphorical summation.

      It is rarely ever used like a screwdriver.
      Charact

  • Wait for this to be weaponized.

    I was torn between Kate bush's Experiment IV or Dune's "The Weirding Way" so I put both

    http://youtu.be/TQeP6GWU0e4

    http://youtu.be/a6hvNe11r9U
  • Don't you mean Gary Seven's [wikipedia.org] Servo [memory-alpha.org] is almost a reality?
    • Or maybe you mean that silver doo-dad that Roddy McDowall used in that "The Fantastic Journey" TV series back in the '70s.
      • Well, both the Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver and Gary Seven's Servo were introduced in March 1968. The sonic screwdriver on March 16 and the Servo on March 29. However, the Servo was a true "deus ex machina" device when it was introduced, but the sonic screwdriver was just used to open a valve when it was introduced.
      • You're referring to the Sonic Screwdriver ripoff the "Sonic Energizer", which looked like a tuning fork. That show was cancelled after ten episodes in 1977 - 9 years after the Sonic Screwdriver came out.
  • Light for Tractor beams, Sound for 'Screwdrivers'. Okay.
  • ...I want the psychic paper.
  • "Can't you just Sonic that?"

    To which the Doctor replied, "This is not a weapon, it's a Screwdriver! You did not understand a single thing I tried to explain to you..."

    Afterwards, he got back in the TARDIS and departed, leaving those researchers at the point where this article finds them today.

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