We’ve all seen it before: somebody aboard a polished chrome starship or in a secret NASA laboratory steps
into a tubular containment unit fully clothed, touches a button, and relaxes while sonic impulses clean both the individual and his or her clothes.
But is this technology really science fiction? Thanks to modern advances in scientific technology, it looks more like science fact!
Ultrasonic Cleaning Appliances
The use of sound waves as a commercial cleaning appliance was first invented in 1952 and quickly rose in popularity over the following decades.
This technology involved the use of ultrasonic vibrations to agitate liquids in a manner that–in layman’s terms–caused the liquids to clean themselves as well as anything inside of them.
Unfortunately, no such technology functioning in that way would go on to be invented for use in bathtubs, as the negative effects of prolonged or intense exposure to ultrasonic waves would cause severe damage to the anatomy of human beings.
Even today, the knowledge of how to commercialize ultrasonic cleaners in a way that is safe and effective for human absorption still eludes us. However, as of July 1, 2019, we are now closer than ever!
Through Makuake, a Japanese crowd-funding website, researchers raised enough money to finance the development of an ultrasonic cleaning device called Sonic Soak. The devices just might be the technological precursor to the sonic bath, the first step in sonic shower technology.
In order to appropriate this technology for showers, however, it still needs to be made safe enough to allow for prolonged contact with human skin, ears, and brains without causing permanent damage.
Until that day, the sonic shower will unfortunately be relegated to the realm of science fiction, although there is quite a bit of mounting evidence for the claim that these Japanese researchers are on track to bring this technology into reality.
Look to the Stars
In the film Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 1979, the ship’s computer beeps out an intruder alert and says that the location is inside of a sonic shower on the ship. This is the first major reference to sonic shower technology in science fiction, perhaps spurred by the cleaning technology of the 50s and 60s.
Since then, multiple other episodes have come out featuring sonic showers in much greater depth. In one episode in particular of Star Trek Voyager, Belana Tores can be seen “bathing” in a sonic shower.
More recently, in 1995, Fantasy Flight Games released a sourcebook for their popular tabletop roleplaying game, Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, in which ultrasonic showers were made available to players as purchasable equipment for the team’s starship.
While the idea of being able to bath in sonic waves and to clean yourself without getting wet might sound, pun intended, like a great way to speed up and improve hygiene, it remains incredibly dangerous. Although, hopefully, scientists are on the verge of another great discovery!
For more information on the 1995 sourcebook for Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, check out this Wookieepedia article. (Wookieepedia is the go-to website for Star Wars roleplaying free-to-access equipment indices.)