Robotics Class – Lesson 2 – Simple Machines Part 2 – Pulley and Inclined Plane

Robotics Class – Lesson 2 – Simple Machines Part 2 – Pulley and Inclined Plane (Compiled mostly from Wikipedia entries)

– Simple Machines –

A simple machine is a mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force. In general, they can be defined as the simplest mechanisms that use mechanical advantage (also called leverage) to multiply force. Usually the term refers to the six classical simple machines which were defined by Renaissance scientists:

Wheel and axle
Inclined plane

A simple machine uses a single applied force to do work against a single load force. Ignoring friction losses, the work done on the load is equal to the work done by the applied force. The machine can increase the amount of the output force, at the cost of a proportional decrease in the distance moved by the load. The ratio of the output to the applied force is called the mechanical advantage.

– Pulley –

A pulley is a wheel on an axle or shaft that is designed to support movement and change of direction of a taut cable or belt along its circumference. Pulleys are used in a variety of ways to lift loads, apply forces, and to transmit power. In nautical contexts, the assembly of wheel, axle, and supporting shell is referred to as a “block.”

A pulley may also be called a sheave or drum and may have a groove or grooves between two flanges around its circumference. The drive element of a pulley system can be a rope, cable, belt, or chain that runs over the pulley inside the groove or grooves.

A set of pulleys assembled so that they rotate independently on the same axle form a block. Two blocks with a rope attached to one of the blocks and threaded through the two sets of pulleys form a block and tackle.

A block and tackle is assembled so one block is attached to fixed mounting point and the other is attached to the moving load. The ideal mechanical advantage of the block and tackle is equal to the number of parts of the rope that support the moving block.

These are different types of pulley systems:

Fixed: A fixed pulley has an axle mounted in bearings attached to a supporting structure. A fixed pulley changes the direction of the force on a rope or belt that moves along its circumference. Mechanical advantage is gained by combining a fixed pulley with a movable pulley or another fixed pulley of a different diameter.

Movable: A movable pulley has an axle in a movable block. A single movable pulley is supported by two parts of the same rope and has a mechanical advantage of two.

Compound: A combination of fixed and a movable pulleys forms a block and tackle. A block and tackle can have several pulleys mounted on the fixed and moving axles, further increasing the mechanical advantage.

– Inclined Plane –

An inclined plane, also known as a ramp, is a flat supporting surface tilted at an angle, with one end higher than the other, used as an aid for raising or lowering a load. The inclined plane is one of the six classical simple machines defined by Renaissance scientists. Inclined planes are widely used to move heavy loads over vertical obstacles; examples vary from a ramp used to load goods into a truck, to a person walking up a pedestrian ramp, to an automobile or railroad train climbing a grade.

Moving an object up an inclined plane requires less force than lifting it straight up, at a cost of an increase in the distance moved. The mechanical advantage of an inclined plane, the factor by which the force is reduced, is equal to the ratio of the length of the sloped surface to the height it spans. Due to conservation of energy, the same amount of mechanical energy (work) is required to lift a given object by a given vertical distance, disregarding losses from friction, but the inclined plane allows the same work to be done with a smaller force exerted over a greater distance.

The angle of friction, also sometimes called the angle of repose, is the maximum angle at which a load can rest motionless on an inclined plane due to friction, without sliding down. This angle is equal to the arctangent of the coefficient of static friction μs between the surfaces.

Two other simple machines are often considered to be derived from the inclined plane. The wedge can be considered a moving inclined plane or two inclined planes connected at the base. The screw consists of a narrow inclined plane wrapped around a cylinder.


Inclined planes are widely used in the form of loading ramps to load and unload goods on trucks, ships, and planes. Wheelchair ramps are used to allow people in wheelchairs to get over vertical obstacles without exceeding their strength. Escalators and slanted conveyor belts are also forms of inclined plane. In a funicular or cable railway a railroad car is pulled up a steep inclined plane using cables. Inclined planes also allow heavy fragile objects, including humans, to be safely lowered down a vertical distance by using the normal force of the plane to reduce the gravitational force. Aircraft evacuation slides allow people to rapidly and safely reach the ground from the height of a passenger airliner.


Lego Models:

Combined Pulley System:

Worm Gear:


Robotics Class Notes – Lesson 2

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