What is an Actuator in Robotics?

When most people hear the term robot, they think of a highly advanced, artificially intelligent machine that can do dozens of daily tasks. A robot is defined as an electromechanical device capable of reacting in some way to its environment and making autonomous decisions or actions to achieve a specific task.


This definition of robots excludes items like a toaster, lamp, or vehicle because they cannot perceive their environments. However, a self-propelling vacuum cleaner or a solar panel that seeks the sun are considered robotic systems.


One of the most important components of your robotic build is the actuator. An actuator is a device that converts energy into physical motion, and the vast majority of actuators produce rotary or linear motion. Linear actuators are defined by force, rotary actuators are defined by torque.


There are many types of actuators, but the three most common types of actuators are hydraulic, pneumatic, and electric. Hydraulic actuators use compressed oil to cause motion. They are most commonly used in heavy machinery, and they can generate very high force. Pneumatic actuators are very similar to hydraulic actuators. Instead of using compressed oil to cause motion, they use compressed air. Electric actuators use an electric current and magnets.


An alternative to hydraulic and pneumatic actuators are artificial muscle actuators, and they operate by converting pressure to a linear force. Artificial muscle actuators don’t require a piston. Instead, the pressure creates a shape change, which can be designed to result in a linear force.


If you’re interested in robotics, one of the most important parts of a robot is the actuator. An actuator is a device that converts energy into physical motion, and most actuators produce rotary or linear motion. The three major types of actuators are hydraulic, pneumatic, and electric, and picking the best one depends on what kind of robotic structure you are designing.


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