They called themselves Sparktech.
Fueled by Red Bull, candy and other “free food,” a team of seven USF students were given a challenge at the Mayor’s Hack-a-thon at the end of June. Within 48 hours, competing teams were tasked with developing an app that would improve the quality of the city of Tampa.
While other teams fell asleep in conference rooms of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Tampa, tired from working around the clock, members of Sparktech maintained their regular schedules, going home at night to sleep. They even left five hours early, Luqmaan Dawoodjee, a senior majoring in marketing and a member of Sparktech, said.
“We brainstormed a few problems before we got there, but we hadn’t focused on one or chosen one particular one,” he said. “There were a few different ideas, and some of them were cooler than the others. In the end we chose the most viable option.”
The option turned out to be the city’s favorite. Last week Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that members of Sparktech had won the grand prize of $1,000. Their app, HARTxt, allows HART bus riders to send text messages with their bus stop ID and desired bus route and receive messages back with the next three stop times.
Sparktech member Kathleen Tran, a senior majoring in computer science and engineering, said her teammates were frequent HART bus riders and often faced the problem of not knowing when the bus would arrive.
“It’s something Tampa is completely lacking in,” she said. “Other cities will have GPS tracking and stuff, but Tampa doesn’t even have that in place, or somewhere at any regular stop where you can see the bus times. All of that is available as data on the website, but it’s not available in a viewable form. We wanted to make it available for people to see and easy to read.”
Dawoodjee said when researching the project, the group found that 77 percent of HART users have cell phones, but only 26 percent of users have smartphones that would allow them to access the HART website directly for the bus schedules.
As the group “hacked” away at their project, writing code for a system that would receive and send text messages connected to HART’s online database of schedules, Dawoodjee said they noticed familiar faces from other groups at the Hack-a-thon.
“Some of the people on the other teams were our classmates, teachers and TAs,” he said.
Some worked to develop an app that allowed Tampa citizens to post their favorite local photos on a common domain. Others worked on an app that allowed people to play games that encourage environmentalism.
Sparktech members said they decided on the HART idea when their initial idea — to create a GPS map of South Tampa that would help people avoid flooded roads — was shut down because of incompatible technology.
HARTxt is currently functional,but each time a text is sent, Dawoodjee is charged 1 cent. With 14 million estimated bus riders who use HART services, Dawoodjee is hoping HART picks up the service.
“All that needs to happen is for HART to pick up the code,” he said. “We’re just waiting for the HART people to implement it.”
Sparktech estimates it would cost HART about $12,000 in addition to the 1-cent cost of each text sent after the first year.
But HART Public Information Officer Marcia Mejia said HART is not that far along in exploring the feasibility of the app.
“Right now we’re looking to see if it can be part of our repertoire of third party applications and are looking to see if the same application can be used for realtime data,” she said.
HART, she said, was already scheduled to become part of a pilot study conducted by USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) in September that will explore ways to implement realtime technology for bus schedule information.
Dawoodjee, who said his next possible project will focus on creating an app that will make USF daily dining hall menus accessible to students, said he was pleased with the overall outcome of the project.
“It’s pretty magical,” he said.