Stretching her Skills at Boston Dynamics

Katie Hughes (MSR ‘23) discusses her summer internship and how she helped add new skills to the company’s warehouse robot.

Katie Hughes (MSR '23) became interested in a career in robotics thanks in part to Boston Dynamics. The company actively promotes its mission to change people's ideas of what robots can do by producing viral videos of its robots dancing or running through a parkour course. 

Katie Hughes

Hughes experienced Boston Dynamics for herself interning there this summer as part of her time in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program. 

“Getting to work there and see behind the scenes of a place I had admired for so long was incredibly exciting,” said Hughes, who spent the summer advancing Stretch, the company's warehouse robot.  

Stretch is designed to automate strenuous and repetitive tasks in warehouses. Currently, it is used to unload boxes from trucks and shipping containers, a task that still pushes the envelope of what robots are currently capable of.  

Hughes’ job was to write new high-level behaviors for Stretch, incorporating feedback the team had received from the warehouse workers who operate the robot.  

“Stretch is a relatively young robot, and so it was really exciting to be a part of a project that was still developing and changing a lot and had a variety of different problems to solve,” Hughes said. “My features have been included in the latest software release for Stretch and hopefully soon will be introduced to customer sites.”  

The internship was Hughes' first industry experience, and she wanted to grow as much as she could from the opportunities presented to her and the people she worked with, even if it pushed her outside of her comfort zone. It was a lesson she embraced during her first year in MSR, and one that translated well at Boston Dynamics.  

“I tried to learn as much as I could while I was at my internship by asking a lot of questions and talking to a lot of people, both on my team and on other teams in the company,” she said. “I learned a lot about integrating my work into a large pre-existing code base and working with big teams of people.  

"You can learn so much from the people around you.”  

One of those people around her this summer was familiar with the MSR journey. While at Boston Dynamics, Hughes crossed paths with Maurice Rahme (MSR '20), a staff robotics engineer who has worked at the company since graduating from MSR. He is one of a number of Northwestern graduates at the company. 

Hughes said she was initially attracted to the MSR program because it featured industry-relevant hands-on projects and a small cohort that would help create meaningful networking opportunities.  

Her goal now is to take what she learns from the MSR program and combine it with the lessons from her internship to launch her robotics career. Her time at Boston Dynamics has her more excited than ever to continue that journey. 

While Hughes is still deciding where she wants to work after graduating, she's confident her training and experiences will have her prepared to succeed no matter where she chooses to work.   

"I still can’t believe how many new skills I’ve picked up over the last year,” she said. “I feel like I have the means to succeed in a variety of different robotics careers.” 

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