A system for the automatic control of motion by means of feedback. The term servomechanism, or servo for short, is sometimes used interchangeably with feedback control system (servosystem). In a narrower sense, servomechanism refers to the feedback control of a single variable (feedback loop or servo loop). In the strictest sense, the term servomechanism is restricted to a feedback loop in which the controlled quantity or output is mechanical position or one of its derivatives (velocity and acceleration). See also Control systems.

The purpose of a servomechanism is to provide one or more of the following objectives: (1) ac­curate control of motion without the need for human attendants (automatic control); (2) maintenance of accuracy with mechanical load variations, changes in the environment, power supply fluctuations, and aging and deterioration of components (regulation and self-calibration); (3) control of a high-power load from a low-power command signal (power amplification); (4) control of an output from a remotely located input, without the use of mechanical linkages (remote control, shaft repeater).

The illustration shows the basic elements of a servomechanism and their interconnections; in this type of block diagram the connection between elements is such that only a unidirectional cause-and-effect action takes place in the direction shown by the arrows. The arrows form a closed path or loop; hence this is a single-loop servomechanism or, simply, a servo loop. More complex servomechanisms may have two or more loops (multiloop servo), and a complete control system may contain many servomechanisms. See also Block diagram.

Servo loop elements and their interconnections. Cause-and-effect action takes place in the directions of arrows. (After American National Standards Institute, Terminology for Automatic Control, ANSI C85.1)
Servo loop elements and their interconnections. Cause-and-effect action takes place in the directions of arrows. (After American National Standards Institute, Terminology for Automatic Control, ANSI C85.1)

Servomechanisms were first used in speed governing of engines, automatic steering of ships, automatic control of guns, and electromechanical analog computers. Today, servomechanisms are employed in almost every industrial field. Among the applications are cutting tools for discrete parts manufacturing, rollers in sheet and web processes, elevators, automobile and aircraft engines, robots, remote manipulators and teleoperators, telescopes, antennas, space vehicles, mechanical knee and arm prostheses, and tape, disk, and film drives.


James Watt’s steam engine governor is generally considered the first powered feedback system. The windmill fantail is an earlier example of automatic control, but since it does not have an amplifier or gain, it is not usually considered a servomechanism.

The first feedback position control device was the ship steering engine, used to position the rudder of large ships based on the position of ship’s wheel. This technology was first used on the SS Great Eastern in 1866. Steam steering engines had the characteristics of a modern servomechanism: an input, an output, an error signal, and a means for amplifying the error signal used for negative feedback to drive the error towards zero.

Electrical servomechanisms require a power amplifier. World War II saw the development of electrical fire-control servomechanisms, using an amplidyne as the power amplifier. Vacuum tube amplifiers were used in the UNISERVO tape drive for the UNIVAC I computer.

Modern servomechanisms use solid state power amplifiers, usually built from MOSFET or thyristor devices. Small servos may use power transistors.

The origin of the word is believed to come from the French “Le Servomoteur” or the slavemotor, first used by J. J. L. Farcot in 1868 to describe hydraulic and steam engines for use in ship steering.


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