I usually refer to the term throughput when referring to both the inputs and outputs of a system. But right now I need a term/word/phrase that summarizes both an electric system's sensors (input devices) as well as its actuators (output devices).

I could cop out and use throughput devices but was hoping something more scientific/formal/semantic was available. Ideas?

  • 6
    How about I/O devices?
    – Lumberjack
    Sep 2, 2014 at 13:33
  • 3
    I/O - Short for input/output (pronounced "eye-oh"). The term I/O is used to describe any program, operation or device that transfers data to or from a computer and to or from a peripheral device.
    – Lumberjack
    Sep 2, 2014 at 13:34
  • 1
    @Lumberjack's answer -- "I/O devices" -- is the commonly-used term. I don't think there'd be anything to gain by finding a more obscure term or making up a new one.
    – Jay
    Sep 2, 2014 at 13:35
  • I agree I/O is the most common term, though it's typically used for passive interfaces. Actuators (mechanical arms?) sound a bit more active, and you wouldn't normally describe them as "output devices", even though there is no doubt, in a technical sense, that's exactly what they are. Maybe consider "peripherals" or "interfaces" (neither is quite right in this situation, but they're worth exploring as leads).
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 2, 2014 at 13:43
  • is it "devices" ?
    – Fattie
    Sep 2, 2014 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


Interfaces is the overall term for the external connections between a system and the world around it.

Wikipedia has an article describing computer interfaces as "the shared boundaries" over which information is exchanged.

The article goes on to describe a system design method called "programming to the interface", which can be generalized further to "design to the interface".

A good system design consists of developing system requirements, which begin with interface specifications and functional specifications. This is followed by partitioning into smaller, more manageable blocks (often called subsystems or blocks, but generically they are also systems), and specifying the interface and functional requirements of each partitioned block. In complex systems, to maintain design independence avoid propagation of problems across interfaces, designers focus on the limited requirements for the functions and interfaces of their subsystems. Chaos is avoided by documenting requirements in functional specifications and interface control documents before detailed design begins.

Interfaces include physical and logical connections between blocks.They include hardware connectors, electrical specifications, communications waveforms and protocols, software object properties and method signatures, spatial requirements (e.g. mounting requirements for hardware, including static devices and actuators). They also include human interfaces, like lights, buzzers, and video screens. Interfaces encompass all of these boundaries between a system and the world outside the system.


Stream is ocassionally used for the input and out processes altogether.

A better alternative would be flow, as input and output are sort of flows, to and from a system.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.