Aaron Johnson researches how to design intelligent interactions between a robot and its environment with a focus on taking robots out of the lab and factory and into the real world. His interests include novel robot design, behavior design, controller design, platform design, as well as dynamic transitions, contact, physics-based planning, bio-inspired robotics, robot vision, actuator modeling, and robot ethics. He has tested his robots in the Mojave desert, power plants, a coal mine, and on various military bases.

Johnson received his B.S. in electrical and computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon (2008). He received his Ph.D. in electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania (2014), and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Personal Robotics Lab, the Robotics Institute, at CMU. He was formerly a visiting researcher with Boston Dynamics, an electrical engineering Intern at iRobot, and a research assistant with the Biorobotics Lab (Snake Robot Lab) at CMU.

Johnson’s work has been featured in many news stories, including interviews with the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal, and in articles on technology news sites, including IEEE Spectrum, Gizmodo, Wired, and Engadget. He received a Young Investigator Award from the Army Research Office in 2019. He was a Best Student Paper Finalist at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in 2013, and at the Climbing and Walking Robots Conference in 2012. He received the David Thuma Laboratory Project Award in 2008 from CMU and an honorable mention for the Computing Research Association’s Outstanding Undergraduate Award in 2008.

1309 Wean Hall
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Aaron Johnson
Aaron Johnson’s website
Robomechanics Lab website

Robots That Can Go Anywhere in the World

24-775 Robot Design and Experimentation: Student Projects


2014 Ph.D., Electrical & Systems Engineering, University of Pennsylvania

2008 BS, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

Media mentions


Johnson mentioned on remote robotic course

MechE’s Aaron Johnson was mentioned in VentureBeat on how his robotics course adjusted to online class during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mechanical Engineering

Reassess, recalibrate and transform

MechE students and faculty adapted with innovation and agility to finish the spring 2020 semester during the COVID-19 pandemic.

IEEE Spectrum

Johnson’s robot design course featured in IEEE Spectrum

MechE’s Aaron Johnson’s Robot Design and Experimentation course was featured in an IEEE Spectrum article highlighting how roboticists (and their robots) have been working from home. Despite turning remote, none of the teams changed their projects.

CMU Engineering

Making tracks in the desert

Catherine Pavlov, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, traveled to the Atacama Desert to conduct experiments she modeled that aim to gain non-grasping functionality from space rovers.

Future Tech Podcast

Johnson on designing robots that meet the challenges of the real world

MechE’s Aaron Johnson was interviewed on the Future Tech Podcast. Johnson’s work focuses on the interactions between a robot and its specific environment. In this podcast, he elaborates on the complex environments in which robots are expected to flourish.

National Institute of Aerospace

CMU team joined the 2019 NASA Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge

In June, a group of CMU College of Engineering students joined eight other institutions for the third NASA Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

IEEE Spectrum

Students build climbing robot in Bioinspired Robotics course

One project from MechE’s Aaron Johnson’s bioinspired robotics course was a new version of the Rhex robot called T-Rhex, created by Team ScienceParrot. With tapered toes made of microspines, the T-Rhex can grip multiple surfaces and climb slopes up to 55 degrees, as well as hang from a vertical wall.

CMU Engineering

Johnson wins ARO Young Investigator Award

Aaron Johnson has won the Army Research Office’s Young Investigator Award for his research on designing robots to cross rough terrain.

CMU Engineering

Spring 2018 semester recap

Spring was a busy and productive semester for the College of Engineering. Catch up with what students from all departments have achieved in the past months.

CMU Engineering

CMU team in NASA Mars ice drilling competition

A team of engineering undergraduate students is one of 10 finalists competing to develop a robot that can drill ice on Mars for a prestigious NASA challenge.

Pittsburgh Business Times

CMU team named finalist in 2018 Mars Ice Challenge

The CMU Tartan Ice Drilling System has been named one of 10 finalists in the NASA and National Institute of Aeronautics’ 2018 Mars Ice Challenge.

ASME Mechanical Engineering Magazine

Johnson’s robots featured in ASME Mechanical Engineering magazine

Robots created by MechE’s Aaron Johnson were featured in an article titled “A Leg Up On Robomechanics” in this month’s issue of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Mechanical Engineering magazine.