Interning with Surgical Precision

Operating rooms of the not-too-distant future could feature a four-armed robotic system named Ottava that will assist human surgeons as they conduct more-precise, less-invasive procedures with a lower chance of complications.  

If and when that becomes a reality, two students from Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program will have played a role in making it happen.  

Ava Zahedi (MSR '23) and Hang Yin (MSR '23) spent their summers interning at Johnson & Johnson MedTech. The duo worked on different software components of the highly anticipated surgical robotic system.  Hang Yin

Both said it was an experience of a lifetime to help with such a potentially life-changing project.  

“Getting to work with an established industry leader in the crucial period of verification and validation was a unique opportunity,” Zahedi said. “I didn’t know my specific projects prior to starting, but I knew I would get to learn a lot about surgical robotics with a talented team.”  

Zahedi’s main focus was on improving the performance and stability of the Ottava system by working on software utility tools to monitor how the machine’s memory is being used.  

Yin’s work centered on software maintenance, testing, and enhancement of current features. He said the entire summer was a fascinating experience. 

“I found the applications of robotics in the medical field particularly unique, packed with challenges I had never encountered before,” Yin said. "Having the opportunity to work on such an intricate system was an invaluable learning experience. Seeing innovative ideas come to life made me appreciate the challenges of robotics development in the industry." 

Robot-assisted surgery is on the precipice of incredible expansion, industry analysts believe. For example, Grand View Research predicted the global market for surgical robots would grow from $4.4 billion in 2022 to $18.4 billion by 2030.  

Yin and Zahedi said their internships were made better because of the lessons and training they learned in the MSR program. 

"The entire ethos of the program is to help prepare students for robotics in the real world with real applications," Zahedi said. "The collaborative and project-based nature of MSR helps prepare students for going out and solving real robotics problems." 

Zahedi said her Sensing Navigation and Machine Learning for Robotics course helped her strengthen her ability to use C++ in a robotic system, which she wound up doing throughout her internship. Yin said he routinely found himself using software best practices he learned from MSR co-director Matthew Elwin in Embedded Systems in Robotics. 

Both students agreed that the hands-on nature of the MSR program not only helped prepare them for their internship, but it made them feel confident to pursue industry work after graduation. 

"One of the main reasons I decided to join MSR was because I felt that some academic institutions focus only on theory and not enough on practical applications," Zahedi said. "Here, I can directly see how my projects in MSR correlate to robots in industry, and how the knowledge and skills I’ve built can help me be successful in these environments." 

McCormick News Article