Solar panels, self-cleaning litter boxes, and drones. 

What do these 3 objects have in common? 

Scientists consider them all robots. Unlike the countless science fiction stories gone wrong, you’ve got yourself a robot if a device can automatically respond to its environment and perform some mechanical task.

Sorry, R2-D2.

Yet, these devices need something called a robot actuator before they accomplish anything. An actuator turns energy into some usable motion. 

It literally gets the ball rolling. 

Of course, you can find several different types of actuators in robotics that serve specific purposes. Learn how to choose the right one, below!

Linear vs. Rotary Actuators

You find 2 main actuators in robotics before all else: linear and rotary.

Linear actuators move things in a straight pathway. 

Rotary actuators turn things in circles. Rotary actuators make things go round and round.

Linear actuators travel finite distances while rotary ones can turn infinitely in circles. Find linear actuators in computers and rotaries in motors. 

You can break these both down further into pneumatic, hydraulic, and electric.

Pneumatic Actuators

“Pneuma” has Greek etymylogical roots that mean “air in motion” or “breathe.” Pneumatic actuators power movement through compressed air. Pressure builds in some chamber which then pushes a piston/gear in linear or circular motion.

Grippers in the packaging industry typically use these actuators.

Pneumatic actuators run smaller and cheaper, but they prove a bit unwieldy and harder to control precise movement.

Hydraulic Actuators

Hydraulic actuators work similarly to pneumatic actuators. But, a hydraulic actuator uses a fluid other than air to power motion. Oil remains fairly common. 

These actuators build up power quite easily and quickly. As such, you notice them in heavy-duty equipment, like diggers from construction. 

Unfortunately, this means these actuators cost more. They also prove harder to control while they run bigger, slower, and dirtier. 

Electric Actuators

An electric actuator harnesses electricity to drive motion. Devices often implement DC actuators. Thus, they come with many unique advantages like extreme precision. 

People easily program them and receive instant feedback. They also run quieter and cleaner, i.e., no fluid leaks as with hydraulic actuators.

That said, they cost more money upfront, overheat, and only work in limited environments. 

You also hear about actuators that combine elements from others. 

For example, discusses electrohydraulic valve actuators.

What to Look For in a Robot Actuator

Obviously, a robot actuator varies as much as the different kinds of fantastical robots you find in science fiction stories. Thus, you should research which actuator suits your projects, needs, and finances. You should probably consider your environmental impact, too, if you care about going green. 

Actuators exist in various industries that perform various tasks. You need the proper actuator to ensure everything works as it should (and prevent societal dysfunction). 

To learn more about exciting topics like these, check out the other articles on our website.

By Manali