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Sensors vs Actuators
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between an Electric Actuator and a Hydraulic Actuator?
What is the difference between sensors and transducers?
Last Updated: Mar 27, 2024

Sensors vs Actuators

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Internet of Things involves the interaction of the physical world with software. IoT devices are composed of a physical object, a controller, sensors, actuators and a network. Sensors are the foundation of an IoT ecosystem. They provide devices with the ability to collect the data used to make things happen. Actuators help produce physical movements in the parts of the device. The composition of these two parts is what makes IoT devices a popular technology today. 


IoT sensors are pieces of hardware that detect environmental changes and collect data. They bridge the digital world to the physical world. IoT sensors can detect things like temperature, pressure, and motion. The output produced by a sensor is a signal that can be converted into readable data. This data can be shared easily if they are connected to a network. There are many types of sensors based on the data they sense. Some of them are as follows.

  • Temperature sensors
  • Proximity sensors
  • Pressure sensors
  • Gas sensors
  • Water sensors
  • Infrared sensors
  • Smoke sensors
  • Motion sensors
  • Level sensors
  • Image sensors and many more.


Sensors have a lot of applications. A few of them are: 

  • Fire and electrical fire accidents are one of the major causes of damage. Sensors can regulate the current flow in the devices and disconnect the current if some fault is detected. Smoke and overheating issues can easily be detected using sensors to send alerts.
  • The sensors in security systems can detect the presence of unknown objects by remote monitoring to raise the alarms. 
  • Temperature control systems at data centres and other industries make use of sensors to detect abnormal changes in temperature. This could prevent fire breakouts, explosions and short-circuiting.
  • Most vehicles have sensors attached to collect their vibration, speed, and fuel consumption by analyzing their engine. 
  • Sensors are also used to monitor water levels in tanks, reservoirs and dams.
  • Sensors are used widely in the health care industry to monitor human health and perform the necessary diagnosis.
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Actuators are components that can make a device move or operate and is capable of controlling its mechanism. They help achieve physical movements in a device by converting electrical, air or hydraulic energy into mechanical force. Thus, it enables movement in any machine. Actuators can be classified based on the direction of their generated movement and the type of source they use to move.

The movements produced by actuators can either be linear or rotary. Actuators can be electric, hydraulic or pneumatic based on their source of energy. 


The actuators are ideal for installations where human interaction is impossible or dangerous. They are also used to greatly reduce manual work. Some of their applications are:

  • They are used in material handling and cutting equipment that move up and down, valves that control the flow of raw materials, etc. 
  • Robotic arms in manufacturing industries also make use of linear actuator systems to achieve linear movement.
  • They are also used to streamline processing, treatment, packaging, and other processes to ensure timely production and distribution. 
  • Home automation systems use actuators to control window and screen movements.
  • Agricultural machinery performs functions like ploughing and cutting using linear actuators.
  • The solar power industry uses actuators to move the panels in the direction of the sunlight.

Sensors vs Actuators

Sensors and actuators work together to facilitate the normal functioning of an IoT device. Data is taken as input via sensors, processed and the output is relayed via actuators to perform the necessary movements. Sensors and actuators have a lot of differences. Let us see each of them one by one.



They convert the physical properties of their environment into signals They convert the energy they receive into mechanical energy.
Sensors receive input from their environment. Actuators receive input from the device;’s processing unit.
Sensors generate output for the device’s processing unit as signals. Actuators generate output for their environment by physical movements.
Sensors look for inputs that may trigger an action. Actuators track outputs of other device components that require physical movements.
Sensors are placed at the input ports of the system. Actuators are placed at the output ports of the system.






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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an Electric Actuator and a Hydraulic Actuator?

Electric actuators use DC motors to drive a lead screw fitted with a nut that runs up and down. As the screw rotates, the nut is driven along those threads, thus converting rotary motion into linear motion. Hydraulic actuators use fluid to push a ram to and fro. It consists of a piston that moves inside of a hollow cylinder due to liquid pressure.

What is the difference between sensors and transducers?

A sensor detects changes in a physical environment, while a transducer converts one form of energy into another. A sensor itself is a component. A transducer is made of a sensor and a signal conditioning circuit.


In this article, we have extensively discussed Actuators and Sensors. We started with a brief introduction to Sensors and Actuators and then moved on to explore their applications. We also discussed the key differences between Sensors and Actuators.

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