Discovering the Value of Interning at a Startup

Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) student Yuchen Wang talks about her time as a flight control and simulation intern at Flugauto and how the experience led to a full-time job offer.

Flugauto is a startup in Michigan that is building unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with the goal of enabling instant access to goods for everyone, everywhere. As the company's website states:

"We believe the next big thing in logistics is near-instant delivery of goods. As an innovative and tech-driven B2B logistics provider, we have embarked on a journey to revolutionize how cargo is moved by providing air transportation for various applications."

Yuchen Wang, who is a current student in Northwestern's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program, spent her summer as an intern at Flugauto. At the end of the internship, she received a full-time job offer as a control engineer at the company when she graduates from MSR.

As Wang finishes up the MSR program, she took time to reflect on her internship experience, the benefits of interning at a startup, and how the MSR curriculum prepared her to succeed.

What were your roles and responsibilities?

I worked there as a flight control and simulation intern on the R&D team. My major responsibility was to provide multi-disciplinary support of the next generation drone development program across advanced simulation, software development, and electrical engineering. Our team was working on designing and building a mini-scaled UAV based on our real product for convenient testing and tuning. I created the UAV model with a physics engine in MATLAB for simulation, integrated the multibody model with the flight controller, and participated in real flight tests.

What did a "typical" day look like for you during your internship?

My "typical" day normally started with a 15-minute meeting with the team to discuss the accomplishment from the previous day and the goal of the day. Then I would work on my tasks. In the afternoon, the R&D team would have a "fly session" when everyone could practice flying drones. We even had a drone racing competition.

What did you learn from the experience?

A lot! I got a chance to learn about aerodynamics, the mechanical design of UAV, and detailed flight control techniques. I also improved my drone flying skills.

How were you able to apply lessons learned in MSR to the internship?

I took the Quadrotor Design course and it gave me an overview of aerial vehicles. I got to know what pitch/roll/yaw means and how to build a controller for a UAV. I also did my winter project using PX4, which is an open-source flight controller. That project helps me get familiar with PX4 and be comfortable using that during my internship.

Why do you think the internship opportunity is important to the overall MSR experience?

Internships are where you can apply what you've learned during MSR. You can demonstrate your skills and ability at work, which really helps you get more career opportunities in the future. And the experience of working in a real industrial environment is different from working on team projects at school. If someone wants to work full-time after graduation, having an internship is a really good start.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Working at a startup is totally different from working in a large company. A smaller team can provide interns with a better opportunity to get involved in the company's "real" product. If you enjoy the excitement of creating new stuff every day and love doing research on new topics, a startup could be a good fit.