Due to the fact that magnetic levitation allows vehicles to be propelled forward with no friction counteracting the propelling force, the technology has been the key behind some of the fastest and perhaps the safest trains we know today. However, the dependence of such vehicles on electromagnets and rails really limits its use for transportation. Till date no one was actually able to develop a maglev-based actuator that can convert some external source of energy into motion. However a team of researchers from Gakuin University in Kanagawa, Japan have now demonstrated a way to make use of lasers to control the direction of a magnetically lifted piece of graphite, opening doors to the possibility of light-powered vehicles in the future.
The researchers made use of a bed of circular magnets to levitate a piece of graphite. Then by taking advantage of its tendency to generate an opposing magnetic field, the researchers demonstrated that they can move the graphite just by blasting its edge with a laser. Engadget reports that the heat changes the magnetic behavior enough to unbalance the graphite and move it in a specific direction. The team believes that the technology could lead to maglev transportation that is steered only by light without any contact or outside guides.