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How Does a Servo Work?


Servo Breakdown

Servos are controlled by sending them a pulse of variable width. The control wire is used to send this pulse. The parameters for this pulse are that it has a minimum pulse, a maximum pulse, and a repetition rate. Given the rotation constraints of the servo, neutral is defined to be the position where the servo has exactly the same amount of potential rotation in the clockwise direction as it does in the counter clockwise direction. It is important to note that different servos will have different constraints on their rotation but they all have a neutral position, and that position is always around 1.5 milliseconds (ms).

pwm signal

The angle is determined by the duration of a pulse that is applied to the control wire. This is called Pulse width Modulation. The servo expects to see a pulse every 20 ms. The length of the pulse will determine how far the motor turns. For example, a 1.5 ms pulse will make the motor turn to the 90 degree position (neutral position).

When these servos are commanded to move they will move to the position and hold that position. If an external force pushes against the servo while the servo is holding a position, the servo will resist from moving out of that position. The maximum amount of force the servo can exert is the torque rating of the servo. Servos will not hold their position forever though; the position pulse must be repeated to instruct the servo to stay in position.

When a pulse is sent to a servo that is less than 1.5 ms the servo rotates to a position and holds its output shaft some number of degrees counterclockwise from the neutral point. When the pulse is wider than 1.5 ms the opposite occurs. The minimal width and the maximum width of pulse that will command the servo to turn to a valid position are functions of each servo. Different brands, and even different servos of the same brand, will have different maximum and minimums. Generally the minimum pulse will be about 1 ms wide and the maximum pulse will be 2 ms wide.

pwm signals

Another parameter that varies from servo to servo is the turn rate. This is the time it takes from the servo to change from one position to another. The worst case turning time is when the servo is holding at the minimum rotation and it is commanded to go to maximum rotation. This can take several seconds on very high torque servos.

The purpose of this information is to give an overview of how servos operate and how to communicate with them. Though we have taken steps to assure the quality of information here, ServoCity makes no guarantees about the information presented. ServoCity cannot be held liable or accountable for any use or misuse of the provided information. If you have questions about this information please e-mail [email protected].