9 Different Types of Actuators in the Internet of Things (IoT)


9 Different Types of Actuators in the Internet of Things (IoT)

Actuators are essential in the Internet of Things (IoT) because they enable motion. They convert electrical signals into movement, enabling IoT devices to interact with the real world.

We will look at 9 distinct types of actuators that are in use in IoT applications. Each actuator, from electric motors to shape memory alloys, has its own set of features and applications. Learning about these types of actuators will help you understand how they allow IoT devices to do different things, like controlling robots.

Here’s a list of the different types of actuators that we will look at.

  • Electric Motors
  • Servo Motors
  • Solenoids
  • Stepper Motors
  • Linear Actuators
  • Pneumatic Actuators
  • Hydraulic Actuators
  • Piezoelectric Actuators
  • Shape Memory Alloys (SMAs)

Let’s break down each one below.

Electric Motors

Electric motors are important types of actuators in the Internet of Things (IoT). They supply power to many gadgets, allowing them to move and do tasks. These motors turn electrical energy into mechanical motion, which powers IoT equipment.

Electric motors are essential in IoT since they provide the driving force for several applications. Robots, drones, and home automation systems all use them. Electric motors enable IoT devices to do tasks due to their capacity to generate movement.

electric motor actuator
Electric motors enable movement by turning electrical energy into mechanical motion.


Applications and Examples

We use electric motors in a wide variety of devices in the Internet of Things. In robotics, electric motors act like muscles, enabling robots to move and interact with the world around them. Electric motors enable the necessary motion for a robotic arm to build things or an autonomous vacuum cleaner to explore a home.

Drones, for example, rely on electric motors for propulsion and stabilization. Drones can hover and perform aerial maneuvers thanks to these motors. They improve the agility and control of these unmanned aerial vehicles. This allows us to use them for aerial photography, package delivery, and surveillance.

Furthermore, electric motors are essential components of home automation systems. They supply power to items like motorized blinds, smart locks, and garage door openers. This makes life easier and more secure. Electric motors let us control and adjust these devices in real-time.

Servo Motors

Servo motors are one of the most exciting types of actuators you’ll come across in the field of IoT. These motors have distinct properties that distinguish them from other actuators.

Servo motors are excellent at controlling position and speed. They have a design that allows them to move to specific angles or positions. This allows for precise and controlled movements. Servo motors can do this and help IoT devices complete tasks very accurately.

A servo motor comprises of a motor, a feedback sensor, and a control system. The feedback sensor monitors the position of the motor. It then gives feedback to the control system in real-time. This feedback loop guarantees that the motor moves to the exact correct position.

servo motor actuator
Servo motors control position and speed.


Use Cases and Benefits

Servo motors have precise control capabilities. You will find them in use in a variety of IoT devices. Here are some common uses and advantages of servo motors.


Servo motors are essential components of robotic systems. They allow for the precise and synchronized motions of robot limbs, grippers, and joints. Servo motors improve robot accuracy and skill.

Remote-Controlled Systems

Servo motors are in use within remote-control systems including RC cars, drones, and robotic arms. They give consumers very precise control over the device’s movement and orientation.

Camera Systems

Servo motors are essential components of camera pan-tilt mechanisms. They give IoT devices smooth and accurate motion control. They allow IoT-based surveillance systems to track items or persons.

Smart Home Automation

Servo motors are used in smart home products like motorized curtains and shades. They make it easy to open and close them. This gives you exact control over natural lighting and privacy.

Industrial Automation

Servo motors help to manage precision in industrial automation systems. Some of them are conveyor belts, robotic assembly lines, and CNC machines. They ensure correct component alignment and movement, increasing efficiency and productivity.

Servo motors are great because they can position precisely, respond quickly, and use very little power. Their flexibility and fine control make them important when we need accuracy and reliability.


Solenoids are interesting types of actuators that we use in the IoT industry. They are simple but effective devices for converting electrical energy into linear motion. They are a wire coil coiled around a cylindrical core. When an electric current flows through the coil, a magnetic field is created that interacts with the core.

This interaction causes the core to move linearly, either attracting or repelling it. Solenoids can be designed in different configurations, such as push or pull types, depending on their intended use.

solenoid actuator
Solenoids are used to generate linear motion.

©Yuthtana artkla/Shutterstock.com


We use solenoids in a wide range of IoT devices, where their ability to generate linear motion is critical. Here are a few examples.

Door Locks

Smart door locks use solenoids to provide secure locking and unlocking mechanisms. When actuated, the solenoid pulls or pushes a bolt giving us convenient access control.

Valves and Fluid Control

Solenoids are essential components of IoT systems that give precise control over fluid flow. They are in use in irrigation systems, smart faucets, and industrial automation where we open and close valves.

Automotive Applications

Solenoids are used in a variety of automotive IoT applications. They can be found in things like automatic door locks, fuel injectors, and transmission control systems.

Medical Devices

Medical devices like infusion pumps use solenoids. They ensure accurate and controlled delivery of fluids, which is crucial for providing proper care to patients.

Actuated Mechanisms

Solenoids can be used to activate mechanisms in Internet of Things devices. They can, for example, be used to open a latch, deploy a retractable antenna, or activate a mechanical switch.

Stepper Motors

Stepper motors are special actuators that you should be aware of in the realm of IoT. Let’s look at what makes them unique.

Stepper motors are intended for accurate position and rotation control. They can move in small increments, unlike other types of motors. This enables precise placement and control. This distinguishes them and makes them perfect for applications requiring precise motions.

Stepper motors consist of multiple electromagnets arranged in a specific pattern. By energizing these electromagnets in a specific sequence, the motor rotates in small increments, moving from one step to the next. This precise control over movement allows for accurate positioning and synchronization in IoT systems.

stepper motor
Stepper motors are used for accurate position and rotation control.


IoT Applications

Stepper motors find extensive use in various IoT applications where precise positioning is critical. Below are a few examples.

3D Printing

Stepper motors play a crucial role in 3D printers. They control the movement of the print head and the positioning of the print bed. This ability to move in small increments enables them to have precise layer-by-layer deposition, resulting in accurate and detailed prints.

CNC Machines

Stepper motors provide precise control over the movement of cutting tools in computer numerical control (CNC) equipment. They contribute to the high precision and easy repetition of machining processes by ensuring accurate placement and smooth motion.

Camera Systems

In camera systems, we use stepper motors in motorized zoom lenses and autofocus mechanisms. These motors allow for precise and focal length changes with much finer control resulting in sharp photos with focus.

Positioning Systems

Stepper motors are in use within the Internet of Things systems that need precise positioning. These can be in motorized stages for laboratory equipment, robotic arms, and telescopes. They provide precise movements with fine control. This enables a variety of scientific and industrial tasks.

Clocks and Timers

Stepper motors are used in IoT devices such as clocks and timers, where we need accurate timing and movement. Their precise steps ensure precise timekeeping and smooth movement of the clock hands.

Linear Actuators

Linear actuators are devices that produce linear motion. Objects can move in a straight path as a result of this. They transform several types of energy, such as electrical or hydraulic energy, into linear displacement. This is critical for many Internet of Things applications that demand precise movement in a straight line.

Linear actuators are available in a variety of configurations, including electric, hydraulic, and pneumatic actuators. We use them in a variety of IoT devices and systems to generate the force required to push, drag, or slide things along a linear path.

Linear Actuators
Linear actuators produce linear motions.

©Pixel B/Shutterstock.com

Use Cases and Benefits

Home Automation

Linear actuators are used to control motorized doors, windows, and adjustable furniture in smart homes. They allow for precise and smooth movement, letting us automatically position objects.

Healthcare Devices

Linear actuators are in medical devices including hospital beds and patient lifts. They let caretakers change the position of patients, assuring comfort and safety.

Industrial Robotics

We use linear actuators in industrial robotics to move and manipulate items. They carry out precise jobs and handle materials in manufacturing lines, conveyor systems, and robotic arms.

Vehicle Systems

We use linear actuators in a variety of IoT-enabled automotive systems. They enable automatic seat adjustments, convertible roof mechanisms, and automatic tailgate opening/closing, among other things.

Agricultural Automation

We use linear actuators in agricultural automation IoT applications. Examples are automatic irrigation systems, greenhouse vents, and agricultural machinery control. They guarantee precise positioning and control of critical agricultural processes.

Linear actuators’ advantages include their ability to offer exact linear motion, configurable speed and force, and simple integration with IoT systems. Because of their adaptability and dependability, they are important for producing regulated linear movement in a variety of IoT applications.

Pneumatic Actuators

Pneumatic actuators are fascinating actuators that play an important part in the realm of IoT. Let’s look at how they work and how they rely on compressed air or gas.

Pneumatic actuators generate mechanical motion by utilizing the power of compressed air or gas. They turn the stored energy into linear or rotary motion, allowing for a variety of functions in IoT devices and systems.

The controlled release of compressed air or gas into a chamber is how pneumatic actuators operate. This release of pressure generates a force that causes the actuator’s internal components to move.

Pneumatic actuators are available in a variety of types, including cylinders and rotary actuators. We use them in applications that need a combination of speed, force, and simplicity.

Pneumatic actuators generate mechanical motion by using compressed air or gas


Examples of IoT Applications

Automated Manufacturing

In automated industrial processes, pneumatic actuators are widely in use. They power pneumatic robots, conveyor systems, and pick-and-place mechanisms. This allows for more efficient and accurate operations.

HVAC Systems

We also use pneumatic actuators to regulate the opening and closing of dampers and valves in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. They allow for the control of airflow and temperature in buildings.

Process Control

In IoT systems, pneumatic actuators are used for process control, such as managing the flow of fluids through pipelines or the functioning of valves in industrial environments. They enable precise and dependable control in a variety of industrial operations.

Medical Devices

You can find pneumatic actuators in medical devices. This can be in patient beds, compression devices, and assistive mobility systems. They allow for controlled movement and adjustments, which improves patient comfort and care.

Automotive Applications

Internet of Things-based automobile systems use pneumatic actuators for active control and regulation. These actuators play a vital role in ensuring the smooth operation and safety of the vehicle. They contribute to the smooth and responsive running of the vehicle.

Hydraulic Actuators

Hydraulic actuators generate mechanical motion by utilizing the power of pressurized fluids, typically oil or hydraulic fluid. These types of actuators transfer the stored energy in the pressurized fluid into linear or rotary motion, allowing for a variety of activities in IoT devices and systems.

The controlled flow of pressured fluid into a chamber is how hydraulic actuators operate. This pressurized fluid exerts a force on the interior components of the actuator, causing mechanical motion to occur.

Hydraulic actuators are well-known for their high force output and precision motion control. They are commonly employed in applications requiring the movement or manipulation of huge loads or high forces.

hydraulic actuator
Hydraulic actuators use pressurized fluids, typically oil or hydraulic fluid, to create mechanical motion.


Applications and Advantages

Heavy Machinery

They are frequently used in heavy machinery such as excavators, cranes, and construction equipment. They offer the necessary force to easily and precisely lift, move, and handle big items.

Aerospace and Aviation

Hydraulic actuators play an important role in the aerospace and aviation industries. They offer precise control of flight control equipment ensuring plane safety and efficiency.

Material Handling

We also use them in handling systems such as conveyor belts, automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), and forklifts. They make it easier for things to move smoothly and efficiently in warehouses and distribution facilities.

Energy Generation

People use hydraulic actuators in hydraulic turbines and wave energy converters. They convert fluid pressure into mechanical motion to drive power generation mechanisms.

Vehicle Suspension

We also use hydraulic actuators in vehicle suspension systems to improve ride comfort and stability. They allow us to adjust suspension components and react to road conditions and driving dynamics.

Hydraulic actuators provide several advantages. These include high force output, accurate control, durability, and adaptability for heavy-duty applications. They rely on pressurized fluids. This makes them perfect for systems that demand powerful and dependable motion control.

Piezoelectric Actuators

Piezoelectric actuators use the unique properties certain materials have when subjected to an electric field to generate mechanical motion. We know this as the piezoelectric effect. It enables piezoelectric actuators to transform electrical energy into precise mechanical displacement.

When a piezoelectric material is exposed to an electric field, it expands or contracts. This expansion or contraction causes mechanical motion in the actuator, allowing for precise control over movement.

Piezoelectric actuators provide a high level of responsiveness and accuracy, making them ideal for applications that need precise positioning or vibration control.

Piezoelectric actuators transform electrical energy into precise mechanical displacement.


IoT Applications

Nanopositioning Systems

We use piezoelectric actuators in nanopositioning systems that require great precision. Examples include atomic force microscopes (AFM) and scanning probe microscopes (SPM). They allow the scanning probes to move precisely, allowing for detailed imaging and manipulation at the nanoscale level.

Ultrasonic Devices

Piezoelectric actuators are also in use within ultrasonic cleaning, atomization, and medical imaging systems. They generate ultrasonic vibrations that can remove dirt, create fine mists, or generate sound waves for medical diagnostics.

Optical Systems

Piezoelectric actuators are essential components of optical systems such as adaptive optics and zoom lenses. They allow for subtle modifications in optical element location, correcting for environmental conditions and enhancing image quality.


We also use them in microfluidic systems to precisely regulate fluid flow and manipulate droplets. They allow for the formation of acoustic waves, which drive fluid flow and allow for accurate mixing, sorting, and droplet ejection.

Energy Harvesting

Piezoelectric actuators can be utilized to gather energy in IoT devices. Using piezoelectric materials, the mechanical strain created by vibrations or motion can be transformed into electrical energy, powering small sensors or low-energy devices.

Shape Memory Alloys (SMAs)

Shape memory alloys (SMAs) are metallic alloys that exhibit the shape memory effect. This implies they may “remember” their initial shape and, when deformed, revert to it when certain circumstances, such as temperature or stress, are met.

SMAs achieve their shape memory effect via a phase transition between two different crystal structures. The SMA undergoes a reversible metamorphosis when we heat or expose it to an external force, allowing it to change its shape.

SMAs are notable for their ability to exert enormous stresses throughout the shape recovery process. This makes them excellent for actuation in IoT systems that demand accurate and responsive motion.

Shape Memory Alloys (SMA) are metallic alloys that exhibit the shape memory effect.

©Oil and Gas Photographer/Shutterstock.com

Examples of IoT Devices

Smart Valves

Smart valves with SMAs are employed in flow control applications. Because of the shape memory effect, the SMA actuator can open or close the valve in reaction to temperature changes or specified conditions, allowing for automatic fluid flow management.

Micro-Positioning Systems

We use SMAs in micro-positioning systems to enable precise movement in small devices. Microscale applications such as micro-robots, medical devices, and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) benefit from their precise placement.

Medical Devices

SMAs are also in use within a variety of medical devices, including stents and orthodontic braces. Because SMAs can change shape in response to temperature or stress, minimally invasive methods, and personalized therapies are possible.

Energy Harvesting

SMAs can be utilized in IoT devices for energy harvesting. SMA actuation can be used to transfer mechanical strain or vibrations into electrical energy, which can then be used to power small sensors or low-power devices.

Haptic Feedback

In haptic feedback systems, we employ them to deliver tactile sensations in virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) situations. The shape memory effect enables the generation of vibrations or deformations, which enhances the immersive experience.

9 Different Types of Actuators in the Internet of Things (IoT) FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are the different types of actuators used in IoT?

The different types of actuators in IoT are electric motors, servo motors, solenoids, stepper motors, linear actuators, pneumatic actuators, hydraulic actuators, piezoelectric actuators, shape memory alloys (SMAs), and electroactive polymers (EAPs).

How do shape memory alloys (SMAs) work as actuators in IoT?

SMAs can change their shape in response to external triggers like temperature or stress. This feature allows them to actuate and provide precise motion control in IoT devices and systems.

What is the role of electroactive polymers (EAPs) in IoT applications?

EAPs act as smart materials that change shape or size when subjected to an electric field. They find applications in various different fields.

What advantages do pneumatic actuators offer in IoT?

Pneumatic actuators are powered by compressed air or gas and offer benefits like high force output, quick response, and smooth operation. 

How can linear actuators benefit IoT systems?

Linear actuators provide linear motion and are widely used in IoT for applications such as automated opening and closing of doors, adjusting window blinds, or controlling the movement of robotic arms with precision and reliability.

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