Linear actuators are motors that work in a straight line. They’re very useful for controlling valves and levers, building robots, and retrofitting old mechanisms for digital control. The simplest form of linear actuator has only 2 positions, while more complicated actuators can be positioned just like stepper motors and servos.
I needed 32 linear actuators for my latest project, and I was shocked to discover how much they would cost. After a little thought, I decided that I only needed simple on/off actuators, and I would try to make them myself using off-the-shelf parts.
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There is a “large volume of literature” on DIY magnetic actuators, which are widely used in small scale remote control airplanes and etc. Most of that is focused on somewhat rotational movement, and “small to ridiculously tiny”, so this article provides a nice starting point for an “easier” alternate build.