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  1. What is a servo motor?

    What is a servo motor? Servo motors (or servos) are self-contained electric devices (see Figure 1 below) that rotate or push parts of a machine with great precision. Servos are found in many places: from toys to home electronics to cars and airplanes. If you have a radio-controlled model car, airplane, or helicopter, you are using at least a few servos. In a model car or aircraft, servos move levers back and forth to control steering or adjust wing surfaces. By rotating a shaft connected to the engine throttle, a servo regulates the speed of a fuel-powered car or aircraft. Servos also appear behind the scenes in devices we use every day. Electronic devices such as DVD and Blu-ray DiscTM players use servos to extend or retract the disc trays. In 21st-century automobiles, servos manage the car's speed: The gas pedal, similar to the volume control on a radio, sends an electrical signal that tells the car's computer how far down it is pressed. The car's computer calculates that information and other data from other sensors and sends a signal to the servo attached to the throttle to adjust the engine speed. Commercial aircraft use servos and a related hydraulic technology to push and pull just about everything in the plane. This assortment of servos is available in stores and by mail order. Servos range in price and application. And of course, robots might not exist without servos. You see servo-controlled robots in almost every movie (those complex animatronic puppets have dozens of servos), and you have probably seen a number of robotic animal toys for sale. Smaller laboratory robots also use servos to move their joints. Hobby servos come in a variety of shapes and sizes for different applications. You may want a large, powerful one for moving the arm of a big robot, or a tiny one to make a robot's eyebrows go up and down. Figure 2 below shows two sizes you can find in a hobby store— an inexpensive common size and a more expensive miniature one. Two common servo sizes. The standard servo on the left can range in power or speed to move something quickly, or it can accommodate a heavier load, such as steering a big radio-controlled monster truck or lifting the blade on a radio-controlled earth mover toy. The miniature servo is about the size of a U.S. quarter and is intended for applications where smallness is a critical factor but a lot of power is not.