UCSC students behind bus tracking app selected as only U.S. team in Google Solution Challenge’s top 10

SlugLoop team

The SlugLoop team during CruzHacks 2023, where they built their first proof of concept and were awarded a “Best Use of Github” prize.

SlugLoop, an innovative real-time bus tracking app developed by a team of four UC Santa Cruz Baskin Engineering students, has been selected into the top 10 of the 2023 Google Solution Challenge

The annual competition invites thousands of students from around the world to develop Google-based technical solutions that support one or more of the United Nations’ (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The Baskin Engineering team, which is the only U.S. team selected into the top 10, will present their project to a panel of industry leaders on August 3. 

“Being selected among the top 10 finalists has been an exciting experience for our team,” said SlugLoop front-end developer and UCSC student Alex Liu. “We take immense pride in what we have collectively achieved and are thankful to Baskin Engineering Professor Kerry Veenstra for assisting us throughout the development process.”

Although the local Santa Cruz Metro bus routes are trackable, there is currently no tracking system in place for the UCSC Loop bus, which is the primary public transit system on campus. The SlugLoop team set out to solve this problem by developing an app that allows students to easily and in real time track bus locations for both UCSC’s Loop buses and the Santa Cruz Metro bus lines that circle campus, providing an opportunity to plan ahead and stay informed.

Engineering students Bill Zhang, Alex Liu, Annie Liu, and Nick Szwed first came up with the idea of SlugLoop after reading a Reddit thread that spoke to student frustration with the UC Santa Cruz campus bus system. They wanted to provide a solution to the issues students faced, from unpredictable route schedules and overcrowding to long wait times and missed buses, while still promoting public transit as one of the most sustainable transportation options.

The team’s system, which came to fruition during their participation in CruzHacks 2023, works first by employing GPS trackers and transceivers on the buses and buildings around campus to collect bus route location information. Because there was once a bus tracking system in place on campus, they were able to get campus permission to make changes on some of the previously installed hardware to meet the needs of their app. 

Once the bus location data is collected, it then gets sent to a custom server and database that is later retrieved and displayed through Google Maps API, allowing real-time, bus tracking information to be displayed on the front end of the app.

In addition to creating a positive campus transportation experience for UCSC students, the team’s technical solution addresses three of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals: quality education (goal #4), sustainable cities and communities (goal #11), and climate action (goal #13).

“We attribute our success to actively listening to and valuing student feedback throughout the development process,” said Zhang, the team's full stack developer. “By incorporating their suggestions, we ensured that SlugLoop became a highly relevant and valuable tool for our users, resulting in an improved user experience and widespread adoption.”

As the team gets ready for Demo Day, they are excited to connect with the other finalists, gain valuable feedback from industry leaders, and discover innovative ways to transform their app.

Tune into the Demo Day livestream on Thursday, August 3 at 7 a.m. PDT. The top three winners will each receive a $3,000 cash prize and ongoing mentorship from a Google industry professional to move their project forward. 

UCSC community members can download the app on the SlugLoop website.