INFRASTRUCTURE

NASA is working on making a tractor beam out of hoverboards

It’s looking like 2015 won’t be the year we actually get Back to the Future-style hoverboards, but one of the companies working on them is now partnering with NASA to use their technology to build tractor beams (a beam of energy used to move or suspend objects, most famously on Star Wars and Star Trek).

Arx Pax unveiled its Hendo hoverboard last year. It’s basically a set of strong electromagnets attached to plywood that hover on very specific metal surfaces. So not exactly the hoverboard Marty McFly rode in the movies. But Arx’s technological goals run far deeper—the company wants to use its technology to make houses earthquake-proof through levitation, for example—and its partnership with NASA is another example of where the company wants to head. Arx announced Sept. 2 that it would be working in partnership with NASA to build a system that would allow a device to attract another object toward it.

According to Arx Pax, the device will be able to “draw as well as repel satellites at the same time,” allowing it to keep objects in place, or pull them in. While this isn’t exactly the tractor beam that Han Solo and the Star Wars gang found themselves ensnared in on the Death Star, it could potentially allow future spaceships the ability to recover small satellites or other small objects without astronauts or robotic arms having to go out into the void of space and get them.

NASA told Quartz that it will be “developing a number of prototypes” for tractor beams over the next two years, and exploring how Arx’s technology can help in the construction of new micro satellites in space. If the project takes off, astronauts of the future may one day have to look out for tractor beams when approaching objects that may or may not be moons.

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