An actuator is a component of a machine that is responsible for moving and controlling a mechanism or system, for example by opening a valve. In simple terms, it is a "mover".

An actuator requires a control signal and a source of energy. The control signal is relatively low energy and may be electric voltage or current, pneumatic, or hydraulic fluid pressure, or even human power. Its main energy source may be an electric current, hydraulic pressure, or pneumatic pressure. When it receives a control signal, an actuator responds by converting the source's energy into mechanical motion. In the electric, hydraulic, and pneumatic sense, it is a form of automation or automatic control.

An actuator is a mechanism by which a control system acts upon to perform an operation or task. The control system can be simple (a fixed mechanical or electronic system), software-based (e.g. a printer driver, robot control system), a human, or any other input.

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