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Three teams from Baskin Engineering win the UCSC IDEA Hub Pitch Contest

Last month, sixteen student teams competed for $6000 in prize money in the 2020 UCSC IDEA Hub Pitch Contest, hosted by UCSC’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurial Development. The three finalists all represented socially beneficial technology projects developed by Baskin School of Engineering students.


Third place in the contest was awarded to SlugCharge, a team of electrical engineering students who have designed a theft-resistant charging station for the people experiencing homelessness. The project was presented by Jordan Tam, and teammates included Nicholas Hopwood, Jeffrey Lo, and Aditya Sehgal. 

The students of SlugCharge surveyed the homeless population in Santa Cruz, and found that the shortage of places to charge their phones made it difficult for them to contact essential services and family. 

“The lack of access to reliable power for charging phones literally cuts homeless people from society,” Tam noted in his presentation. 

To address this problem, the team joined up with the Homeless Garden Project to create a design for a charging station that would be solar powered, weather resistant, and capable of charging multiple phones at once, all while offering protection against theft.

SlugCharge also won the People’s Choice Award in the competition.


The second-place winner of the IDEA Hub competition was ViBrace, an assistive technology created by Baskin Engineering students Varun Rapaka and Harjit Chahal. 

ViBrace is a wearable sound detection device that alerts its deaf users to the noises around them with tactile and visual feedback. Current devices to alert people with deafness of fire alarms and doorbells are often designed only to work in the home, but ViBrace aims to make an affordable, easy-to-use product that can alert users to a range of different noises in the environment wherever they are. 

“We have a wide sound level threshold range so people can have a wide selectivity of the sounds that they want to be notified of,” Rapaka noted while presenting the project. “This has immediate haptic response through vibration so people will know what is going on in their environment and it will increase their situational awareness.” 

The team also hopes to be able to add firmware that will recognize more specific sounds, such as the sound of glass breaking or a horn blaring, through updates that users can download as they are released.


The first place prize in the pitch competition went to an impressive student project to improve recycling in the United States. 

The ARbot, or Automated Recycling Robot, was presented by Logan Fansler, whose team includes Viet Nguyen, Martin Contreras, Clayton Tan, and Neha Dhayanand.

In their pitch, the ARbot team explained that in 2018, China reduced the amount of contamination they will accept in recyclables from 10-15% to just 0.5%, and most U.S. recycling facilities were not able to meet the new requirements. 

Current automation technology for detecting and removing contaminants is prohibitively expensive, and many recycling centers would have to be completely redesigned in order to instal it, but ARbot seeks to make a scalable robot that can be implemented along any existing conveyor belt. 

“While other companies are redesigning the facility to fit the robot, we designed the robot for the facility,” Fansler said. They estimate that California could save $1M by using ARbot to sort through contaminated paper recyclables. Although COVID-19 has way-layed some of their plans for the project, the robot is currently being fabricated (85% complete), and once the fabrication is complete the team plans to work together again to fine tune the electronic system.

The team’s passion and dedication was obvious to the judges, who remarked on how much progress the team had made in such a short time. Fansler remarked: “I believe our project was so successful in large part because we wanted to work with each other, were willing to communicate openly about anything, and worked like hell.”