Impactful Internship at Intuitive

Dilan Wijesinghe and Marno Nel share how their MSR experience prepared them to thrive at a progressive company making next-generation robots to assist in the operating room.

Dilan Wijesinghe and Marno Nel

It would have been understandable if Dilan Wijesinghe (MSR ‘23) was nervous. This past summer, Wijesinghe interned as an embedded systems software engineer at Intuitive, a company known for its innovative approach to improving healthcare.

It was Wijesinghe's first internship, and Intuitive was the largest company he'd ever worked at.

But he wasn't nervous, and he credits Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program for his calmness. 

"The MSR program teaches us invaluable lessons in self-teaching," said Wijesinghe, who spent the summer problem-solving for the displays of Intuitive's next-generation robot. "My manager commented at one point that I was incredibly independent and was able to encounter and solve problems without intervention. The MSR program teaches us how to approach these problems and how to independently come up with solutions." 

In addition to preparing Wijesinghe mentally, MSR gave him the hands-on technical experience necessary to thrive in the role. For his winter project, Wijesinghe created a modular robot that could be configured in different ways to make distinct robots. 

This summer, he found himself directly applying lessons from that experience to his work at Intuitive. 

"The project-based curriculum allows students to get exposure to what they want to learn in robotics," he said, "and this ended up being incredibly beneficial for my internship." 

Marthinus (Marno) Nel had a similar experience. Nel (MSR ‘23) also interned at Intuitive — where he led the development of algorithms for 3D medical datasets for the company's surgical robots. 

“My experience at MSR prepared me to excel in the internship by providing me with a strong foundation in robotics, control engineering, and algorithm development,” he said. “The research and coursework I had completed before the internship gave me the necessary technical knowledge and problem-solving skills to tackle complex projects at Intuitive.”  

The problems were indeed complex. Intuitive is focused heavily on non-invasive care. Its innovations, including the da Vinci robot surgical assistant, have allowed surgeons to perform incredibly precise operations with minimal incisions.  

Both MSR students said they relished the opportunity to work at such a forward-thinking company.  

“Intuitive plays a significant role in the healthcare industry by advancing surgical techniques, enhancing patient care, and pushing the boundaries of what's possible with robotics,” Nel said. “The chance to contribute to projects at the intersection of robotics and healthcare was inspiring.”  

Wijesinghe agreed.  

“It genuinely felt good to be working for a company that was focused on patient-first care,” Wijesinghe said. “It’s important for me personally to be working somewhere where I can make a positive difference in the world, so I was really excited about the opportunity.” 

The duo is now back at Northwestern and preparing to graduate in December. Both Nel and Wijesinghe have been able to apply lessons learned at Intuitive to their final projects — and they credit their time as interns for preparing them to thrive after they receive their diplomas. 

"Real-world internships like the one at Intuitive are invaluable for MSR students because they provide a bridge between academic knowledge and practical applications," Nel said. "They offer the opportunity to work on cutting-edge projects, collaborate with experts in the field, and gain insights into the challenges and opportunities in the industry.  

"This type of experience not only enhances technical skills but also fosters a deeper understanding of how technology can be used to make a meaningful impact in the real world. It's a vital component of the MSR experience."

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