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Actuators

Your own skeleton is covered by musculature, a system of long, stretchy fibers that contract when stimulated, delivering power for moving your body. On a robot, such systems are called actuators (from actuate—to put into action). These are the motors, gears, hydraulic or pneumatic cylinders, or other active components that work to put your robot into motion. Let’s look briefly at the most common types of actuators.

Motors and Gears

The most tried and true means of delivering power to move robot parts is direct current (DC) motors and sets of gears. Sometimes, each joint of a manipulator arm (or other moving appendage) will have a dedicated motor and set of gears. Other times, sets of gears will be designed to transfer the power of one motor to a number of places where motion is needed. One popular type of motor is called a servo motor. It has a DC motor and a set of gears (called a gearbox) inside a housing that protects the whole assembly. Inside the housing is also usually a board of controller electronics that allows for precise control of the motion of the motor’s axle. (We’ll be discussing servo motors, gearboxes, and controllers in other sections of this book.)


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