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An actuator is a device that moves or controls some mechanism. An actuator turns a control signal into mechanical action such as an electric motor. Actuators may be based on hydraulic, pneumatic, electric, thermal or mechanical means, but are increasingly being driven by software. An actuator ties a control system to its environment.
In a mechanical device, an actuator is a component that turns the control signal into movement.
Examples of actuators include:
Actuators may be powered by electric current, hydraulic fluid or pneumatic pressure. In embedded systems, the control signal comes from a microcontroller programmed by software. Device drivers send input to a peripheral device, such as a printer. While actuators typically provide circular motion, they can convert circular motion into linear motion via screws and wheel-and-axle devices. An example of the latter is a rack and pinion system.