Component Focus: Internal Desiccant

All of the dynamic shaft seal design efforts taken by Ultra Motion will minimize the amount of liquid ingress into the actuator enclosure, but 100% moisture exclusion is not feasible. For this reason, the A2 and AM Servo Cylinders include a custom injection molded desiccant block in close proximity to the control electronics and BLDC stator to adsorb moisture over long periods of time. The desiccant block is a molecular sieve that traps moisture molecules as they migrate through the semi-solid component.

Compared to typical silica-gel desiccants, the high-performance injection molded desiccant used in the Servo Cylinder slowly adsorbs moisture over years, does not release moisture at high temperatures, and is structurally robust. This small component would normally go unnoticed, but it plays an important role in making the Servo Cylinder extremely reliable in harsh marine environments.

Our custom engineered desiccant block is also paired with a precision humidity sensor that continuously monitors relative humidity inside of the actuator’s sealed housing. This allows users to assess the functionality of the actuator’s seals and determine if the desiccant block requires service long before an unexpected problem occurs.

UltraMotion subsea actuator

Ultra Motion Actuators Go Offshore On Subsea Cable Installation Carriage

UltraMotion subsea actuator

Great to see our U1 Series subsea linear actuator being used in North Sea Systems’ CableFish. The system provides subsea cable installers with continuous video and mapping of the product as it contacts the seabed. Our actuator enables the survey carriage to be attached and removed from the cable without any manual intervention – thereby improving safety. As the offshore wind industry comes to our shores, we hope to see CableFish in action in the US soon.

Contact us for more information on our line of underwater actuators.

Servo Cylinder Tests Future Interplanetary Rotorcraft in Simulated Titan Atmosphere

Dragonfly is a rotorcraft lander being designed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in support of NASA’s New Frontiers program. The Dragonfly dual-quadcopter will be sent to explore Saturn’s moon, Titan, and to take a variety of in-flight atmospheric and surface measurements. Titan’s dense atmosphere and low gravity make it an ideal candidate for an aerial exploration vehicle making it able to cover tens of miles of Saturn’s moon in under an hour.

In order to acquire surface samples, Honeybee Robotics has been contracted to design a pneumatic transfer subsystem called DrACO – Drill for Acquisition of Complex Organics. DrACO acts similarly to an everyday vacuum cleaner, using a high-speed pump and the external atmosphere to acquire, store, and analyze samples of loose particles on Titan’s surface.

A high-fidelity DrACO prototype has been successfully tested in a state-of-the-art “Titan Pressure Environment Chamber (TPEC)” that was custom built for this mission by Johns Hopkins APL. This chamber mimics Titan’s 1.5 atm and -181 °C atmosphere and puts the equipment to the test. An Ultra Motion Servo Cylinder was used to move a pneumatic suction tube up and down to the imitation Titan surface within the TPEC, emulating what Honeybee Robotic’s drill will do on Titan. The Servo Cylinder was insulated in order to maintain an acceptable temperature for operation while exposed to the -181 °C temperature. The Servo Cylinder has built-in temperature feedback and a special heating firmware that makes use of non-torque generating phase currents to turn the motor into a heater for extremely cold ambient environment applications.

Read more about the Dragonfly mission here

New CAN Protocol For Servo Cylinder

Ultra Motion has released a new general-purpose CAN protocol for the Servo Cylinder that can be configured for use in a wide range of systems from commercial autopilots or J1939 systems to python test setups or microcontrollers. This simple to implement protocol leverages the networkability and extremely reliable hardware layers of CAN to create robust motion control solutions. Ultra Motion’s CAN protocol is highly configurable which makes it compatible with a variety of off-the-shelf autopilots and J1939 systems.



Aside from the simplified wiring of CAN compared to typical RC PWM control systems, this CAN protocol allows for detailed logging of actuator telemetry like real-time position, current, bus voltage, temperature, and status for preventative maintenance, post-flight analysis, and real-time control adjustments.



This new CAN functionality is available on all models including our submersible (Series AU) and shock/vibration hardened (Series AM) Servo Cylinders, so we can offer a solution to your most challenging environments.



Contact Ultra Motion Engineering for more information on this new protocol or to review your application requirements in detail.

Configure Your Servo Cylinder

Ultra Motion Actuators Help Measure The Moon At 70,000 Feet

Air-LUSI Project
Photo Credit: Ken Ulrich, NASA

The airborne lunar spectral irradiance mission (Air-LUSI) is a partnership between NASA and NIST to create SI-traceable measurements of lunar spectral irradiance in an effort to improve the measurements of Earth observing satellites. These satellites monitor the weather, vegetation, ocean currents, pollution, and more. Using the light reflected from the moon as a constant absolute reference point for satellite calibration will allow for improvements to these satellites and consistency between data from different satellite instruments. Satellites will be able to calibrate in-orbit and over-time as sensors degrade.
The custom telescope used to acquire the data is installed into the wing pod of an Earth Resources-2 aircraft, which is a direct descendant of the U-2 spy plane. The ER-2 flies to an altitude of 70,000 feet allowing the telescope to measure the light from the moon above 95% of the Earth’s atmosphere. Reducing the distortion effect of the atmosphere allows Air-LUSI to characterize the spectral irradiance of the moon more accurately than ground-based measurements, and in a similar environment to the Low-Earth Orbit satellites that will make use of the calibration point.

Ultra Motion’s Role
An autonomous robotic telescope mount instrument subsystem (ARTEMIS) was created by Dr. S. Andrew Gadsden and his team in the Intelligent Control and Estimation laboratory at the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada) in order to accurately track the moon during the flight. Two Ultra Motion Servo Cylinders were successfully employed to control the telescope’s elevation and azimuth throughout the flights. The ARTEMIS system had to operate flawlessly at 70,000 feet and in ambient temperatures as low as -60°C. External heating elements were used to maintain the temperature of the actuators throughout the flight. Custom self-heating Servo Cylinder firmware can be installed to use the motor as a heat generating element for applications that cannot make use of external heaters.
Telemetry was gathered from the actuator’s integrated controller in order to monitor the performance and health of the Servo Cylinder throughout the experiment. This included absolute position from the Phase Index contactless sensor, actuator temperature, bus voltage, and actuator phase current. Real-time data from the Servo Cylinders provide insight into the overall performance of the system and increases the confidence of the ARTEMIS for future test flights.

A demonstration flight campaign over five separate flights showed that the ARTEMIS successfully tracked the moon with a root-mean-squared-error of 0.11° tracking accuracy! The Air-LUSI experiment will continue to be used over the coming years to gather lunar irradiance data for a range of lunar phases. As the data set grows, a higher fidelity lunar spectral irradiance model can be produced and allow for improvements to a significant amount of Earth-observing satellites.

Read more about this project.

A video overview of the Air-LUSI mission is shown below:

Air-LUSI Project
Photo Credit: Ken Ulrich, NASA

Air-LUSI Project
Photo Credit: Ken Ulrich, NASA


Photo Credit: Ken Ulrich, NASA

Telemetry recorded via the Servo Cylinder’s serial communication interface. The above graphs represent the azimuth actuator’s temperature and the elevation actuator’s absolute position during the five separate flights.

A2 Servo Cylinders Provide Nozzle Flap Control On Hypersonic Aircraft Engine

Hermeus is an exciting new company developing a hypersonic aircraft with the goal of revolutionizing commercial flight. Ultra Motion’s A2 Servo Cylinders control the nozzle flaps of their prototype engine during hot-fire testing.

The Servo Cylinder’s robust construction ensures reliable operation in the harshest environments and the Phase Index absolute position sensor provides rock-solid feedback in high vibration applications. The integrated BLDC control electronics are designed to produce high efficiency and extremely dynamic motion, while offering the user a variety of command protocols to facilitate integration into their system.

To see more details on the Servo Cylinder linear actuator product line including performance data and dimensions, use our online configurator here.


Servo Cylinder Actuator Ideal For UAV Applications

The Servo Cylinder is a popular choice for high reliability UAV control surface and utility linear actuator applications. The A-Series Servo Cylinder uses a brushless DC motor and contactless absolute position feedback to reduce wear and provide superior performance when compared to potentiometers and brushed DC solutions. The built-in control electronics offer a variety of communication interfaces including RC PWM, 4-20 mA in/out, ±10 VDC, RS-232, RS-422, CAN, and CANopen.

Our AM Servo Cylinder is designed to excel in harsh shock/vibe environments with IP65 dynamic and IP67 static ingress protection ratings. The D38999 receptacles provide military standard connections, and the on-board temperature, current, voltage, and humidity sensors allow for constant health monitoring of the servo actuator. Custom heater firmware is available that maintains a configurable controller temperature even in ambient environments < -40°C. The Servo Cylinder has an 8 to 36 VDC operating bus voltage, which is compliant with the majority of UAV power busses and will survive at >51 VDC.

The Servo Cylinder offers forces up to 530 lbf, strokes up to 7.75 inches, and speeds up to 14 in/s, allowing for high bandwidth control >15 Hz at small position amplitudes.

Conversions of control surfaces from rotary actuators to linear actuators can lead to increased performance and decreased cost/mass. Contact Ultra Motion Engineering to discuss your unmanned vehicle actuator requirements in detail. View Servo Cylinder performance and dimensions by using our online configurator here.

New Controller Options Including CANopen, 4-20 mA Input/Output, And More.

The Industrial Controller and CAN Controller are two new control board options now offered alongside the Classic controller integrated in all Servo Cylinder models.

The Industrial Control Board offers a 4-20 mA input and an isolated 4-20 mA output for simple and robust communication with new and existing PLC systems. The industrial control board can also be provided a ±10VDC command signal, and has an RS-422 full duplex serial connection for more reliable communication in harsh environments compared to the classic controller.

The CAN Control Board is compliant to CiA DS301 and DS402 with support for cyclic synchronous position and profile position modes, allowing for sophisticated and synchronized control of up to 127 Servo Cylinders per CAN bus. The CANopen controller has a half-duplex RS-485 serial connection for diagnostics, configuration, and field updating of the firmware.

For more information on our Servo Cylinder offerings click here, or configure your model here.

Swashplate Linear Actuator Control With Servo Cylinders

In the photo below are Ultra Motion’s A2 Servo Cylinders being shown off in a swashplate control application for a twin-rotor UAV helicopter. The A2 Servo Cylinder’s high dynamic performance, reliable operation in harsh conditions, and Phase Index absolute position feedback makes it the perfect solution for unmanned vehicle control applications. A variety of control interfaces including RS-422 serial and RC-PWM greatly simplifies interfacing the Servo Cylinder with COTS autopilots or custom avionics. 

For more information on our Servo Cylinder offerings click here, or configure your model here.

Introducing New R-Series Aerospace Actuators

Designed for the demanding shock and vibration environments of the new-space industry, the R-Series actuators from Ultra Motion leverage years of heritage in high reliability actuator design for spaceflight applications. Using Ultra Motion’s flight proven, patented Phase Index absolute position sensor, the R-Series provides high resolution absolute position feedback in the most extreme environments and with uncontested mass, economy, and power density. The R-Series actuators are the perfect solution for high reliability new-space and aerospace applications such as thrust vector control, throttle control, and fin control.

  • Dual Redundant Absolute Position Feedback
  • Forces up to 1200 lbf peak
  • Speeds up to 2.5 in/s
  • Stroke up to 3.5 inches
  • Mass < 3.0 lbm

The R-Series is a modular platform allowing for application specific requirements to easily be met, such as Mighty Mouse connectors, specific mounting arrangements, variations in force/speed, etc. Contact Ultra Motion engineering for more details.