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What are actuators?

Actuators are a component of a control system that converts a control signal (usually electrical)  into some kind of mechanic motion. In a control system they produce the controlling output of the system, whereas sensors provide in to the system.

They can:

Common Uses

Common uses

Actuators are a required component of any control system

  • Production lines, controlling the movement of goods and the machines that make them
  • In fly-by-wire systems on airplanes.
  • In air-conditioning systems to turn on the fan/cooler.
  • In cars for example in electronic windows and doors
  • In life support systems to administer drugs to patients automatically.
  • In agriculture systems for automatic watering and temperature control.


Production lines rely on hundreds of actuators to control the flow of goods being produced. Source: Wikipedia


Linear Actuators

A linear actuator, useful for pressing buttons, moving objects

Linear actuators produce a backwards and forwards motion. They are often used for turning devices on and off without user intervention and for positioning objects.

For example they are useful on assembly lines for moving objects in a fixed direction.




Rotary Actuators

Rotary actuators output a turning force. In the example below this turning force is used to open/close a value on a water pipe automatically.

Source: WIkipedia

Common uses:

  • Controlling values
  • Distributing drinks in vending machines
  • Opening/closing electric locks
  • Controlling  car windows
  • Controlling window wipers



Servos are a type of actuator that is incredibly common in smaller systems.

When fed a digital electrical control signal these servos motors move to precise angles, making them incredibly useful for a wide variety of applications. They are particularly popular when prototyping automated systems.




1. Commonly used when prototyping
2. The device that produces the output in a control system
3. A device that provides an input signal
4. A microcontroller often acts as the ...
5. Type of actuator that moves forwards and backwards
6. A type of actuator that produces a turning force
7. Usually contain many actuators
8. All actuators convert an control signal into motion