UArizona Student’s Flying Robots Startup Takes Off with Support from Ecosystem

Nov. 24, 2021

Ph.D. candidate’s research in the College of Engineering led to an invention that’s now become the foundational technology for Revolute Robotics.

The Revolute Robotics team

The Revolute Robotics team at the September 28, 2021, Tech Launch Arizona I-Squared Awards. From left to right: Richard Lu, Steven Olson, Nate Punla, Sahand Sabet, Collin Taylor, Daniel Kaitel, Carlos Ramirez, Roarke Bradley and Charles Penny. Photo courtesy of Revolute Robotics.

Photo courtesy of Revolute Robotics.

TUCSON, Ariz. – Imagine an autonomous drone that flies, rolls, and explores confined and complex spaces without fear of collision damage, and is so energy efficient that it operates up to 10 times longer than a standard drone. Sahand Sabet, Ph.D., who was working towards his degree at the time in the University of Arizona College of Engineering, has developed this very technology. Looking like high-tech mesh ball, the robot that Sabet and his team have created can transition between buzzing through the air and rolling on the groundgiving it not only unmatched mobility in confined spacesbut also durability and efficiency, the latter resulting from the physics fact that rolling requires much less energy than flight.  

“We were looking to solve challenging confined space inspection problems across a variety of industries,” said Sabet. “My dissertation focuses on dynamics modeling, control, path planning and design optimization of hybrid rolling and flying robots.” 

With the support of entrepreneurship and innovation experts from across the UArizona, Sabet and his team have developed a series of prototypes, protected the intellectual property for the invention, and launched a startup company, Revolute Robotics, to bring it all to the market. 

While Sabet’s Ph.D. research focused on solving problems in engineering, he is passionate about pursuing areas of business that open pathways for translating those innovations to the marketplace, such as product management, fund raisingand talent acquisition. 

In 2020 Sabet and his team learned of a Student Innovation Challenge being sponsored by Tech Launch Arizona, the commercialization arm of the UArizona. Through the challenge, the office offered funding to help student inventors advance their ideas towards market readiness. Sabet submitted their proposal and was awarded funding to develop a prototype. 

He co-founded Revolute with Collin Taylor who graduated in 2021 from the Eller College of Management with a double major in finance and entrepreneurship. The team also includes undergraduate engineering student Steven Olson, mechanical engineering undergraduate Roark Bradley, engineering undergraduate Nate Punla, and mechanical engineering and computer science undergraduate Richard Lu. Each brings a unique expertise to the team, from flight control to materials to fabrication to entrepreneurship. 

“We’re working hard to build on everyone’s strengths,” Taylor said of his team. “We’ve spent the last two months getting everyone working on something that both benefits the team and allows them to work on something they’re passionate about.” 

Along with taking advantage of the funding from the TLA Challenge to develop their prototype, the Revolute team also signed up for the NSF I-Corps course that TLA offers, which taught them techniques for discovering who their best customers might be. TLA Mentor-in-Residence Steven Wood mentored them through the program. 

“I have known Sahand and Collin since the venture began to unfold and then I had the pleasure of working with this team through the iCorps Teams program,” he said. “They were completely engaged and fully participated in the process.” 

“Through I-Corps, we learned that our sweet spot in the market will be those industries requiring drones for indoor inspection and surveillance,” said Taylor. 

Sahand and Collin took full advantage of the wealth of resources provided through TLA to move their innovation from the research bench into the marketplace,” said Bruce Burgess, director of venture development at TLA. “It’s rewarding to see their team come together, combining innovation and passion to develop real-world solutions to meet customer needs.” 

Both Taylor and Sabet agree that Revolute’s success to date is a product of a great team surrounded by a supportive innovation ecosystem that includes the College of Engineering, the McGuire Center for EntrepreneurshipTech Launch Arizona, and the UArizona Center for Innovation 

“We got to where we are today because of the people and resources we’ve found in the Tucson community,” Taylor said. 

Revolute has won multiple honors already, including the New Venture Competition at the Eller College, the UArizona Center for Innovation Sponsored Launch Program fueled by the Town of Sahuarita and Freeport-McMoRan, and the McGuire Center Young Entrepreneur Prize at IdeaFunding, the region’s largest entrepreneurial conference and annual pitch competition. TLA recently named Sabet Student Inventor of the Year at its I-Squared Expo and Awards.   

Paul Tumarkin, Assistant Director, Marketing Communications