The University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) is a startup incubator network which works exclusively with science and technology startup companies from the UA, general community and internationally. The center provides companies with resources to help them get off the ground, including ways to create and develop inventions the startup plans to market.
Among the resources UACI staff recommend is the Interdisciplinary Capstone program, as a way for member companies to cost effectively work with a bright young group of engineers. UACI director Anita Bell, who has been a part of Tucson’s startup incubator network for more than 15 years, said the center has always had a good relationship with Interdisciplinary Capstone.
“The companies can inexpensively access talent and skill sets from the university, and the students can engage with a startup,” she said. “It’s accessible and easy for the companies to plug in as well. These startups have just two or three people, and little project management experience. This ready-made program provides the opportunity for startups to plug in, and the company gets the benefit of this interdisciplinary team. For us, it’s a no-brainer to recommend the program. It’s great synergy.”
This year, two UACI companies are sponsoring capstone projects: Nature’s Cooling Solutions and Revolute Robotics.
Nature’s Cooling Solutions
Nature’s Cooling Solutions builds smart window fans that monitor and adapt to indoor conditions, bringing in cold air from the outside when available. George Wiese founded the company in an effort to create a more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to running the air conditioner 24/7.
“We want to intelligently use outside air,” Wiese explained. “I can’t tell you how many times I walk out at 5 or 6 in the morning, it’s 60 degrees and my neighbor’s AC is running. Something’s wrong with that picture.”
His company developed a fan that is much more energy efficient than an air conditioning unit. And the second generation of the device runs even more cleanly, cutting the energy requirement in half compared to the original model. It uses 97% less energy than an air conditioning unit, and it also includes a filter to remove pollen, dust and mold.
They’ve enlisted a team of seniors to help further improve the second generation of the device. This means working on software to make sure the filtration process ensures high air quality, as well as integrating Wi-Fi into the system so it can be controlled via app.
“It’s a win-win deal for the students and the company,” Wiese said. “You look at the number of companies that are involved, and obviously, we’re not the only guys that think that.”
Revolute Robotics makes autonomous drones capable of both flying overhead when terrain is rough and rolling on land when possible, to conserve energy. The durable robots, which consist of a drone surrounded by a mesh-like sphere, are designed for remote inspection, scouting and surveillance.
The company is co-founded by Sahand Sabet, who recently completed his PhD in mechanical engineering, and Collin Taylor, a recent graduate of the Eller College of Management with a double major in finance and entrepreneurship. The two met during the Student Innovation Challenge, a program sponsored by Tech Launch Arizona which offers funding to help student inventors advance their ideas toward market readiness. They’ve developed a series of prototypes, protected the intellectual property for the invention and launched Revolute Robotics.
Now, they’re ready to take the project to the next level, and as a former engineering student himself, Sabet was already familiar with Interdisciplinary Capstone.
“I think it’s great—you get a good group of students for nine months, and an opportunity to impact students,” Sabet said. “It’s also cost-effective.”
The Revolute Robotics capstone team will be refining the company’s prototype. For example, they will program the robot to make decisions about when to roll and when to fly, and they will create a way for it to collect data about the environment and send it back to a server.