The researchers at the University of Minnesota reported the device uses the force generated by light to flip another mechanical "switch" of light on and off at a very high speed.
The development could lead to advances in computation and signal processing using light instead of electrical current with higher performance and lower power consumption, a UM release said Tuesday.
"This device is similar to electromechanical relays but operates completely with light," engineering Professor Mo Li said.
The device is based on the finding that nanoscale light conduits can be used to generate a strong enough optical force with light to mechanically move an optical waveguide, a channel of information that carries light.
This force of light is so strong, the researchers found, that the mechanical property of the device can be dominated completely by the optical effect rather than its own mechanical structure.
"This is the first time that this novel optomechanical effect is used to amplify optical signals without converting them into electrical ones," Li said.
Currently, the new optical relay device operates 1 million times per second, but the researchers said they expect to improve it to several billion times per second.