Aaron M. Johnson

Aaron M. Johnson with some robots
I am an Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering working on legged robots, adaptive controls, contact-rich manipulation, physics based planning & learning, and terrain manipulation as director of the Robomechanics Lab. My postdoc involved developing new manipulation planning algorithms on HERB in the Personal Robotics Lab, part of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. I earned my PhD working on self-manipulation and dynamic behaviors on legged robots (among other things) in Kod*lab, part of the GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Before that I was an undergraduate student researching snake robots as part of the Biorobotics Lab, also at Carnegie Mellon University.

My research aims to design intelligent interactions between a robot and its environment. Thus far robots have been most successful in highly controlled environments such as factories designed around the limitations of the robot, or for extremely simple behaviors such as vacuuming flat floors without too many obstacles. But we need robots that are capable of performing useful behaviors in real environments, like our homes and offices, that are cluttered, complex, and changing dynamically. The only way we will ever have robots that can explore the world or help us in our homes is to study this behavior interaction between the robot and the environment. Unfortunately these interactions cannot be controlled directly but rather they can be controlled only through the design of the platform, sensors, and software such that when the robot is run in a given environment, the desired behavioral interaction results.

Quick Links

Robomechanics Lab - Information on my research group.

Prospective Students - Interested in working with me? Find opportunities here.

Locomotion Seminar - Subscribe to the CMU Locomotion Seminar group or look at the calendar.

Resources and Advice - Misc resources and advice for my students and anyone who is interested.

Recent News

For the latest news, follow me on LinkedIn!

Quad-SDK Released May, 2022

We have released Quad-SDK, an open source, ROS-based full stack software framework for agile quadrupedal locomotion. The modular software architecture allows researchers to experiment with their own implementations of different components while leveraging the existing framework. Quad-SDK also offers Gazebo simulation support and a suite of visualization and data-processing tools for rapid development. You can read more in our 2022 ICRA Workshop on Legged Robots paper, which won the best workshop paper award!

Black in Robotics Reading List September, 2020

Black researchers are extremely under-represented in academic robotics. Together with Profs. Henny Admoni and Carlotta Berry, we have written an article in IEEE Spectrum Automation blog on how we can take actions to support our Black colleagues. This summer we published the Black in Robotics Reading List, in support of the recently formed Black in Robotics Organization, as a way to learn more about Black researchers and some of their publications in robotics. These small steps won't fix a system with systemic injustices, but they are a good way for all of us to get started.

Dynamic Walking 2020 January, 2020

This year Prof. Michael Posa and I are co-hosting the Dynamic Walking Conference! The conference will be May 11-14 in the Poconos, at a fun venue in the mountains with lots of good activities. Abstracts are due February 21st and can be submitted online. This is the one conference that I try to attend every single year, and I look forward to learning about everyone's latest work in May!

New Projects on Fielding Legged Robots March, 2019

I am excited to announce that the lab has received two new grants to take robots out into challenging terrain! The first is a Young Investigator Award from the Army Research Office on climbing steep rocky hills. The second is a grant from company to explore and sample for environmental contaminants in soil around industrial sites. To help get these projects moving we are looking for a Postdoctoral Researcher interested in taking robots out into the field -- if you are interested please contact Prof. Johnson.

MiniRHex Released December, 2018

At long last we have officially released our small open-source version of RHex called MiniRHex. We originally designed MiniRHex for the Engineering@CMU program for high school students so that we could bring a fleet of robots into the classroom and let students have more hands-on time than is possible with one or two larger robots. However, MiniRHex has also turned out to be a great research platform since it is much smaller and easier to work with than other robots while still having interesting dynamics and an impressive payload capacity. Check out our video and this article about the robot.

Popular Videos

More videos

Robots That Can Go Anywhere

Interview and overview of my current research in the Robomechanics Lab, featuring many of my current students.

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Robot Design and Experimentation

Summary of my spring class, 24-775 Robot Design & Experimentation, with student projects from 2018 available here.

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RHex the Parkour Robot

X-RHex Lite running, leaping, and doing backflips around Penn's campus, using behaviors first presented at ICRA 2013, and featured in several videos.

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