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UCI Students Launch the ZotMeal App

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A group of UCI students launched the ZotMeal app on the iOS App Store on Jan. 3. The app is designed to provide easy access to Brandywine and the Anteatery’s dining menus, display nutritional information, shorten lines and provide one-tap navigation to the dining halls.

Second year computer science major Shengyuan Lu was the iOS Tech Lead; first year computer science major Eric Pedley was the Backend Tech Lead; second year computer science and engineering major Brian Vo was the Backend Software Development Engineer; second year computer science major Justin Yue was the Android Tech Lead; second year computer science and engineering major Tony Liu was the Android Software Development Engineer.

During the HackUCI 2021 hackathon, which is a limited time software development competition, the UCI students created a prototype for the app. This prototype received 220 upvotes on Reddit, leading the group to think it could meet a need on campus.

Lu spoke with the New University about the creation of the ZotMeal app. 

“We first [came] up with the idea in January 2021 after realizing how inconvenient it is to look up menus on the dining hall website,” Lu said. “In September 2021, I started to develop the ‘real’ version that will eventually end up on [the] Apple App Store. As an international student, I stayed on campus during the entire Christmas break… to meet the Jan. 3 deadline we set for ourselves.”

Lu discussed the inspiration behind the ZotMeal app, noting that as a resident of Middle Earth last year, he experienced the inconvenience of checking the menu and nutritional value of the dining hall food every day.

“I gained a lot of weight because of my unhealthy eating habits during the pandemic, so I thought a menu app with all nutritional information available would better inform UCI students,” Lu said.

Lu estimates that about one in six students who currently dine on campus use the ZotMeal app. He also discussed the challenges he faced while creating the app.

“The main challenge is to build an app that works for all students at all times. UCI has a diverse student body with different living preferences and different types of cell phones,” Lu said. “I have to optimize the app for all screen sizes and make sure the app is still usable during lunch [and] dinner hours when a lot of people will request data from our server. I even [built] dark mode and light mode so students who enjoy dark user interface will like it.”

In order to gather feedback, Lu turned to platforms such as Reddit and the App Store reviews section.

“I primarily use Reddit and App Store reviews to analyze users’ opinions and feedback since we don’t collect any data from the app,” Lu said.

In the second version of the ZotMeal app, Lu and his collaborators plan to add features such as a bar code based on student ID in order to facilitate entry into the Anteater Recreation Center.

Students can see a preview of the app here and download the app from the App Store here.

Chrissy Park is a Campus News Intern for the winter 2022 quarter. She can be reached at chrip10@uci.edu.