Position-Input Actuator Control with an Arduino

Programming a PLC to control your actuator can be one of the more difficult projects to undertake. It requires trial and error, testing and a heap of patience; though the results can be incredibly functional and rewarding.

How Do You Control a Linear Actuator with an Arduino?

This code is for a functional Serial responsive actuator. This is a customer-built code from Nicola Buccoliero, a 24-year-old Italian engineer from Universtà Campus Bio-Medico in Rome, working on their thesis with UPenn.

The Serial feed is a leger of operations an Arduino takes, with additional data sent in or out of the Arduino unit as programmed. With this code, typing a number into the Serial Monitor will tell your Arduino where you want your actuator to move.

Here's what the code does:

  1. Initialization (Set Up):
    • It sets up the connections to the motor and the actuator feedback sensor.
  2. Watching the Serial Monitor for Instructions:
    • The Arduino is looking for you to input a number. When it sees a number entered into the Serial Feed, it starts moving the motor.
  3. Moving the Motor:
    • When the target position is set, the Arduino will begin moving the actuator toward the target. It keeps an eye on the sensor to know when it reaches that point.
  4. Stopping at Location:
    • As it moves, it keeps checking the sensor. Once the sensor says it's in the right spot, the system stops the motor.
  5. Wait for Next Instruction:
    • The system will wait for further instruction. When it hears a new message, it starts moving again, following the same process.

This code helps control a motor to go to a specific place, stop there, and be ready to do it all over again when told.

This code is intended to begin with a fully retracted actuator, meaning the "0" position is the fully retracted end of stroke. However, this code will work if the actuator is initialized while extended - you will need to input a negative integer value to move the actuator backwards (ex: -1200)

Nicola's Code
// Input / Output Pins
const int motorPin1 = 10; // Pin to control the motor forward
const int motorPin2 = 11; // Pin to control the motor backward
const int sensorPin = 3;  // Pin to read the sensor

// Variables
int speed = 255; // Adjust to change actuator speed (0-255)

int sensorValue = 0;
int previousSensorValue = 0;
int motorChangeCount = 0;
int lastStoppedCount = 0;
int targetNumber = 0;
bool motorEnabled = false;
bool waitForCommand = true;

void setup() {
  pinMode(motorPin1, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(motorPin2, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(sensorPin, INPUT);

void loop() {
  if (!motorEnabled && Serial.available() > 0) {
    targetNumber = Serial.parseInt();
    if (targetNumber != 0) {
      Serial.print("Target number: ");
      motorEnabled = true;
      analogWrite(motorPin1, speed); // Move forward
      analogWrite(motorPin2, 0);   // Stop
      // Set the counter to the stopped value, considering the difference between targetNumber and lastStoppedCount
      if (targetNumber > lastStoppedCount) {
        motorChangeCount = lastStoppedCount + 1; // Start from +1
      } else if (targetNumber < lastStoppedCount) {
        motorChangeCount = lastStoppedCount - 1; // Start from -1
      } else {
        motorChangeCount = lastStoppedCount; // Keep the same value
      waitForCommand = true;    // Wait for a new input from the serial

  if (motorEnabled) {
    sensorValue = digitalRead(sensorPin);
    if (sensorValue == 1 && previousSensorValue == 0) {
      if (motorChangeCount < targetNumber) {
      } else if (motorChangeCount > targetNumber) {

      Serial.print("Change from 0 to 1: ");
      Serial.print(" - Target number: ");
    previousSensorValue = sensorValue;

    if (motorChangeCount < targetNumber) {
      analogWrite(motorPin1, speed); // Move forward
      analogWrite(motorPin2, 0);
    } else if (motorChangeCount > targetNumber) {
      analogWrite(motorPin1, 0);
      analogWrite(motorPin2, speed); // Move backward
    } else {
      analogWrite(motorPin1, 0); // Stop the motor when the motor count corresponds to the target number
      analogWrite(motorPin2, 0);
      motorEnabled = false;
      Serial.println("Motor stopped. Awaiting a new number.");
      lastStoppedCount = motorChangeCount; // Store the value of motorChangeCount when the motor stops
      waitForCommand = true; // Wait for new instructions
// Code by Nicola Buccoliero 
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