Scientists from the University of Tokyo are bringing us a tiny bit closer to the dream of land speeders and hover boards, employing "acoustic levitation" to make objects move in unprecedented ways. Even floating small particles in mid-air.

Yoichi OchiaiTakayuki Hoshi and Jun Rekimoto authored a paper titled, "Three-dimensional Mid-air Acoustic Manipulation by Ultrasonic Phased Arrays," in which they explain how they use sound-waves to move objects in space. Although acoustic levitation is not new in itself, it has so far only been used to suspend objects in the air - never to move them. 

Here's a short demonstration of their work:

In the paper, submitted last month Cornell University's science site ArXiv, the authors explain their innovation: 

In the present study, we considered extended acoustic manipulation whereby millimeter-sized particles were levitated and moved three-dimensionally by localized ultrasonic standing waves, which were generated by ultrasonic phased arrays. Our manipulation system has two original features. One is the direction of the ultrasound beam, which is arbitrary because the force acting toward its center is also utilized. The other is the manipulation principle by which a localized standing wave is generated at an arbitrary position and moved three-dimensionally by opposed and ultrasonic phased arrays. 

Did you get all that? Essentially, the scientists use very high-frequency sound waves to suspend ultra-light objects, which they are then able to move around by manipulating the waves. Such motion was not possible in earlier experiments because the sound waves were bounced off a solid surface. Motion is possible only when objects are caught between at least two waves. 

The scientist posted an extended video, below, weeks after they submitted the paper. In it they show the diversity of objects they've been able to float in air, and how they move. 

Pretty impressive, but we know what you're all thinking: Is 12 months enough time for this technology to evolve from manipulating a few dust particles in in a lab, to Marty McFly-style hoverboards that carry us around the town square? Back To The Future II promised that we would have those by 2015 and well.... the clock is ticking.