Servo Motor | Servo Mechanism | Theory and Working Principle

What is Servo Motor?

This is nothing but a simple electrical motor, controlled with the help of servomechanism. If the motor as controlled device, associated with servomechanism is DC motor, then it is commonly known DC Servo Motor. If the controlled motor is operated by AC, it is called AC Servo Motor.

Servo Motor Theory

There are some special types of application of electrical motor where rotation of the motor is required for just a certain angle not continuously for long period of time. For these applications some special types of motor are required with some special arrangement which makes the motor to rotate a certain angle for a given electrical input (signal). For this purpose servo motor comes into picture. This is normally a simple DC motor which is controlled for specific angular rotation with help of additional servomechanism (a typical closed loop feedback control system). Now day’s servo system has huge industrial applications. Servo motor applications are also commonly seen in remote controlled toy cars for controlling direction of motion and it is also very commonly used as the motor which moves the tray of a CD or DVD player. Beside these there are other hundreds of servo motor applications we see in our daily life. The main reason behind using a servo is that it provides angular precision, i.e. it will only rotate as much we want and then stop and wait for next signal to take further action. This is unlike a normal electrical motor which starts rotating as and when power is applied to it and the rotation continues until we switch off the power. We cannot control the rotational progress of electrical motor; but we can only control the speed of rotation and can turn it ON and OFF.

Now we come to the specific answer of the question "what is servo motor?"
Servo motor is a special type of motor which is automatically operated up to certain limit for a given command with help of error-sensing feedback to correct the performance.

Servo Motor System

Servo Motor System

Servo Motor Working Principle

Before understanding the working principle of servo motor we should understand first the basic of servomechanism.


A servo system mainly consists of three basic components - a controlled device, a output sensor, a feedback system.

This is an automatic closed loop control system. Here instead of controlling a device by applying variable input signal, the device is controlled by a feedback signal generated by comparing output signal and reference input signal.

When reference input signal or command signal is applied to the system, it is compared with output reference signal of the system produced by output sensor, and a third signal produced by feedback system. This third signal acts as input signal of controlled device. This input signal to the device presents as long as there is a logical difference between reference input signal and output signal of the system. After the device achieves its desired output, there will be no longer logical difference between reference input signal and reference output signal of the system. Then, third signal produced by comparing theses above said signals will not remain enough to operate the device further and to produce further output of the system until the next reference input signal or command signal is applied to the system. Hence the primary task of a servomechanism is to maintain the output of a system at the desired value in the presence of disturbances.

Working Principle of Servo Motor

A servo motor is basically a DC motor(in some special cases it is AC motor) along with some other special purpose components that make a DC motor a servo. In a servo unit, you will find a small DC motor, a potentiometer, gear arrangement and an intelligent circuitry. The intelligent circuitry along with the potentiometer makes the servo to rotate according to our wishes.

As we know, a small DC motor will rotate with high speed but the torque generated by its rotation will not be enough to move even a light load. This is where the gear system inside a servomechanism comes into picture. The gear mechanism will take high input speed of the motor (fast) and at the output, we will get a output speed which is slower than original input speed but more practical and widely applicable.

Say at initial position of servo motor shaft, the position of the potentiometer knob is such that there is no electrical signal generated at the output port of the potentiometer . This output port of the potentiometer is connected with one of the input terminals of the error detector amplifier. Now an electrical signal is given to another input terminal of the error detector amplifier. Now difference between these two signals, one comes from potentiometer and another comes from external source, will be amplified in the error detector amplifier and feeds the DC motor. This amplified error signal acts as the input power of the dc motor and the motor starts rotating in desired direction. As the motor shaft progresses the potentiometer knob also rotates as it is coupled with motor shaft with help of gear arrangement. As the position of the potentiometer knob changes there will be an electrical signal produced at the potentiometer port. As the angular position of the potentiometer knob progresses the output or feedback signal increases. After desired angular position of motor shaft the potentiometer knob is reaches at such position the electrical signal generated in the potentiometer becomes same as of external electrical signal given to amplifier. At this condition, there will be no output signal from the amplifier to the motor input as there is no difference between external applied signal and the signal generated at potentiometer . As the input signal to the motor is nil at that position, the motor stops rotating. This is how a simple conceptual servo motor works.

Servo Motor Control

For understanding servo motor control let us consider an example of servomotor that we have given a signal to rotate by an angle of 45° and then stop and wait for further instruction.

The shaft of the DC motor is coupled with another shaft called output shaft, with help of gear assembly. This gear assembly is used to step down the high rpm of the motor's shaft to low rpm at output shaft of the servo system.


The voltage adjusting knob of a potentiometer is so arranged with the output shaft by means of another gear assembly, that during rotation of the shaft, the knob also rotates and creates an varying electrical potential according to the principle of potentiometer . This signal i.e. electrical potential is increased with angular movement of potentiometer knob along with the system shaft from 0° to 45°. This electrical potential or voltage is taken to the error detector feedback amplifier along with the input reference commends i.e. input signal voltage.


As the angle of rotation of the shaft increases from 0° to 45° the voltage from potentiometer increases. At 45° this voltage reaches to a value which is equal to the given input command voltage to the system. As at this position of the shaft, there is no difference between the signal voltage coming from the potentiometer and reference input voltage (command signal) to the system, the output voltage of the amplifier becomes zero.

Servo Motor Circuit

Servo Motor Circuit

As per the picture given above the output electrical voltage signal of the amplifier, acts as input voltage of the DC motor. Hence the motor will stop rotating after the shaft rotates by 45°. The motor will be at this rest position until another command is given to the system for further movement of the shaft in desired direction. From this example we can understand the most basic servo motor theory and how servo motor control is achieved.

NB: Although in practical servo motor control system, instead of using simple potentiometer we use digital or analog position sensor encoder.

From this basic working principle of servo motor it can be concluded. The shaft of the servo is connected to a potentiometer . The circuitry inside the servo, to which the potentiometer is connected, knows the position of the servo. The electric current position will be compared with the desired position continuously with the help of an Error Detection Amplifier. If a mismatch is found, then an error signal is provided at the output of the error amplifier and the shaft will rotate to go the exact location required. Once the desired location is reached, it stops and waits.

Continuous Rotation Servo Motors

Continuous rotation servo motors are actually a modified version of what the servos are actually meant to do, that is, control the shaft position. The 360° rotation servos are actually made by changing certain mechanical connections inside the servo. However, certain manufacturer like parallax sells these servos as well. With the continuous rotation servo you can only control the direction and speed of the servo, but not the position.
Two of the most popular Servo motor manufacturers are FUTABA and HITEC.