You just pick a laser, press a button, and you may transfer your armchair (or a spaceship such as the International Space Station) from one corner of your room to another. It's handy, especially for armchair physicists.
Well, so far, they can do such things with microorganisms and similar objects, not with spaceships and armchairs.
It's interesting that the beam isn't "pushing" the objects by the photons' momentum: it is "tugging" them which was pointed out to be theoretically possible in some recent papers. The new experimental results were reported in Nature Photonics yesterday:
Experimental demonstration of optical transport, sorting and self-arrangement using a ‘tractor beam’Read the abstract, it's pretty neat.
They claim that the cells may be moved by micrometers and under the beam, they spontaneously sort and rearrange themselves into interesting geometric patterns. Moreover, these patterns move in the opposite direction than the building blocks they are composed of. This behavior of the tractor beam is likely to be used to organize cells in biology very soon because the experimental infrastructure seems to be very cheap and undemanding.
Incidentally, Intel plans to upgrade Stephen Hawking to a state-of-the-art bioelectronic device capable of speaking 10 words a minute and other virtues.