App that could improve commutes takes prize in CSU Digital Challenge

Traffic along 19th Avenue

Four SF State students developed an app that could cut down commute times to and from campus.

Four SF State students develop app that could help shave time off commutes to campus

Drive or take public transit? That’s a question many San Francisco State University students ask themselves daily. But what if there were an app that could compare current driving conditions and available parking spots on and around campus with public transit travel times? Four SF State students have developed an app called Gator Trans that does just that.

The group took home second prize at the GE Digital CSU Challenge at the company’s digital headquarters in San Ramon, competing against eight other California State University campuses. The challenge asked engineering and computer science students to use GE’s Predix software to develop an app that demonstrates connectivity to machines, equipment and data analysis.

Photo of Associate Professor of Earth & Climate Sciences Jason Gurdak

Second place winners in the GE Digital CSU Challenge (left to right) Prakash Singh Punia, Abhilash Shrivastava, Soumithri Chilakamarri and Trent Liu.

SF State computer science students Trent Liu, Abhilash Shrivastava and Soumithri Chilakamarri designed the app, and SF State MBA student Prakash Singh Punia conducted market research that informed the traffic tool. He also created a compelling pitch that won over the judges.

“San Francisco housing is very costly, so many people have to commute to campus. There are people coming from the East Bay, and I even I know people who commute every day from Sacramento,” Punia said. The team surveyed hundreds of SF State students and faculty about their commutes, asking them questions like “How long is your drive?” and “How many times do you circle campus before finding parking?”

“One of the questions in my survey was ‘What if you could see the availability of parking around the campus? Would it influence your choice of transportation?’” said Punia. “Fifty percent said that would definitely influence their choice.”

Students getting ready to leave for campus can check the app to see if it makes more sense to drive or ride public transit. The app also provides information such as traffic conditions to and from campus, a weather report and available parking spots. Based on all of these factors, Punia said, the app will suggest whether it’s better to drive or take BART. It also measures foot traffic at different pick-up points around campus for the SF State shuttle. Live data from foot traffic would trigger the shuttle service to increase or decrease. “We don’t want the service running every 15 minutes with just one or two passengers. This just leads to a lot of wasted gas,” Punia said.

Team member Shrivastava was the tech lead and competed in last year’s competition as well. Last year, they came in third place, and he said what made them stand out this year was the pitch and the market research. “The judges liked that the app was customized for the unique needs of our student population,” he added.

Unfortunately, Gator Trans won’t be available for download any time soon. Some of the features, like live-tracking data, are too expensive, Punia said, but if a major company like GE wanted to help them develop the app they would happily partner with the company.