Linear Actuators in Robotics
In the past, robots were the darlings of science fiction with a broad assortment of clunky designs. Our love affair with these machines still burns strong today despite over-sensationalized fears of robots taking over humankind. The use of linear actuators in robotics have been a pivotal component (pun intended) in advancing this automated technology.
Irrational fears aside, today’s streamlined, high-tech autonomous robots are extremely advanced and though it’s unlikely they’ll turn us all into slaves for their robot colonies, we just may be seeing the beginning of these intelligent and useful machines just might take over the world.
Definitions of Robots
First off, the term “Robot” is quite broad and all-encompassing, so let’s determine exactly what a “Robot” is.
“a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.”
a : a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (such as walking or talking) of a human being; also : a similar but fictional machine whose lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized
b : an efficient insensitive person who functions automatically
: a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks
: a mechanism guided by automatic controls
How Linear Actuators in Robotics are Used in Different Ways
There are many types of machines that can be defined as a robot. Each one bringing with it very specific motion control requirements and challenges. The following covers some common examples of how linear actuators in robotics are used today:
Mechanical “arms” that function similar to a real human hand but are able to handle far greater loads and operate at much faster speeds with superior precision. Robotic arms can be found in a wide array of sizes, capabilities and forms from small children’s learning toys all the way up to the largest factory or other industrial automation application.
Using linear actuators in robotics arms is very common. Nowadays linear actuators can be found in very small sizes to incredibly large, powerful models. They can be incredibly strong and are useful for lifting the arm up and down as well as opening and closing the gripper.
Mechanical puppets where technology is used to animate electronics in such a way as to mimic/replicate animals, humans and other life-like figures.
Animatronics tend to use an assortment of small moving parts, including micro linear actuators. The possibilities are limited only by imagination.
Artistic Design / Sustainable Design
We often don’t think of robots and art at the same time (other than in film). The advancement of technology and innovation of motion control capabilities have enhanced both the artistic and sustainable robotic possibilities. Some robotic art is even being created by robots.
Augmentation / Prosthetics
As our knowledge of technology increases our robots also become more intelligent. So intelligent, that we are able to design augmented robotic prosthetics that not only replace limbs, but connect directly to the human body to perform commands almost as naturally as it would be if it were a real limb, through the user’s mental activity.
Micro linear actuators in robotics for augmented prosthetics are critical for finger dexterity and limb motion.
Automation / Industrial
These include machines that perform jobs that are dangerous, heavy, boring or requiring extreme precision. Robot arms are often the first designs that come to mind, but there are many types that do work for Agriculture, Assembly, Aerospace, Military, Medical and more. Automated industrial robots have been in use for decades and are probably the most widely used form of robotics. Today, they are beginning to creep more visibly into our everyday lives through our homes, offices and schools.
Linear motion control is found in multiple forms in the industrial/automation industries, from conveyer belts, to parts assembly to the previously mentioned robotic arms. It is one of the key components that has enabled us to advance technology at such an accelerated growth rate.
These are devices that can work independently of human control (and are most likely the ones who will first break free of the Three Laws of Robotics). Autonomous robots are able to detect their environments and adapt accordingly. They have become a common household appliance in the form of floor vacuums.
Linear actuators in autonomous robots can be used to help the robot reach new heights, get a better view of its surrounding area and push itself out of tight situation.
Drones / UAS
Drones (aka Unmanned Aircraft Systems, aka UAS) have quite possibly penetrated our world faster than any other type of robot. They are in our skies, movies, commercials, kids toys (both young and the young at heart), travels, research, military and more. Drones are literally everywhere. So much so that new UAS laws are having to be written to govern the use of these flying machines. They can be as small as an insect or large enough to hold a single human passenger.
Linear actuators in robotic drones are becoming increasingly popular for landing gear, rotary and camera extensions.
Despite our tendency to anthropomorphize robots, we are still a long way away from being overthrown by our own electronic inventions. That said, if it weren’t for linear actuators in robotics, we would not have the thriving, exciting and fast evolving world of technology that we are enjoying today.