Brenna Argall, PhD

Brenna Argall, PhD

Director, argallab
Associate Professor, Departments of Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Northwestern University

About Me

Brenna Argall, PhD, is a research scientist and Director of the argallab at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. Her research — at the intersection of artificial intelligence, machine learning and rehabilitation robotics — advances human ability by incorporating robotic autonomy and intelligence into assistive devices.

People with the most severe motor impairments, who would likely benefit most from using an assistive device, are often physically unable to operate the devices that could improve their quality of life. One solution is to off-load the burden of operating an assistive device to a robotic control system, so that the device and its user can share control of the device.

The robot can be customized to accommodate the user’s physical abilities, personal preferences or even financial means — and the balance of control can be shifted to accommodate changes in the user’s abilities during recovery. The ability of robots to sense, act in and reason about the world can be leveraged to help bridge the gap left by sensory, motor or cognitive impairments in people who use assistive machines. The argallab works with several hardware platforms, including a smart wheelchair and assistive robotic arms, for which they design the autonomy software and integrate custom sensor and interface add-ons.

In 2016, Dr. Argall was a recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER award — a prestigious award given to early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as role models in research and education and to advance the mission of their organizations.  Also in 2016, she was named one of the “40 under 40” by Crain’s Chicago Business.

Dr. Argall is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Northwestern University. She is also affiliated with the Center for Robotics and Biosystems and is a faculty advisor for the Master of Science in Robotics program, both at Northwestern University.

She completed her BS in Mathematical Sciences, with minors in Music and Biological Sciences, in 2002, and her PhD in Robotics in 2009 at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship (2009-2011) in Robot Learning at the École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland.


Shirley Ryan AbilityLab

355 East Erie

Chicago, IL 60611

Education & Training



    1998 - 2002
    Mathematics, Carnegie Mellon University
    2004 - 2009
    Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University


    2009 - 2011
    Robot Learning, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)

Honors & Awards

  • Faculty Early CAREER Award
    National Science Foundation, 2016
  • 40 under 40
    Crain's Chicago Business, 2016
  • June and Donald Brewer Junior Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
    Northwestern University, 2011

Professional Affiliations

  • Member
    Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), 2007
  • Member
    Robotics and Automation Society (RAS), 2010
  • Member
    Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), 2012
  • Trustee
    Chicago Ideas Brain Trust, 2017 - 2018

Research Interests

  • Robotics Autonomy
  • Assistive and Rehabilitation Robots
  • Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence
  • Shared Control between Humans and Robots

Selected Grants

  • National Science Foundation (Robust Intelligence)
    1552706, 2016 - 2021
  • Office of Naval Research
    N00014-16-1-2247, 2016 - 2020
  • National Institutes of Health (NICHD)
    R43-HD085317, 2016 - 2017
  • National Science Foundation (Cyber-Physical Systems)
    15544741, 2015 - 2018
  • National Institutes of Health (NIBIB/NICHD)
    R01-EB019335, 2014 - 2017
  • National Science Foundation (Cyber-Physical Systems)
    1329891, 2013 - 2017
  • National Science Foundation
    1229566, 2012 - 2016

My Lab

Assistive & Rehabilitation Robotics Lab

We incorporate robotics autonomy and intelligence into assistive machines to support people with motor impairments.

view lab