Convincing a team to go electronic

Hey everyone,
My team has been trying to improve our scouting system for the last few years, and for me, the next logical step is to move to an entirely electronic scouting system. However, other members of my team don’t see the advantages of a fully electronic system, and just see the costs of setting up electronic scouting. How did you convince your team to change to electronic scouting, and about how much did it cost.

Thanks,
Tanner
4946

First, to make your case, you need to separate your own feelings from the idea. Acknowledge that you might be wrong.

Then, present a well reasoned analysis of exactly what the benefits of such a system would be, over and above the methods you use now. Accurately represent the costs in both time to develop and dollars needed to implement. Then show why the added value represented by the new system is worth the implementation costs.

This process is the same for making any business decision. Be sure that you are accurately presenting both the benefits and the costs. If you oversell the benefits, or undersell the costs, you weaken your case, and damage your future credibility.

If I were on the receiving end of your presentation, I would want you to convince me that going to the electronic system would result in a better chance of winning an event. Some things to consider:

  • If you are not an alliance captain, improving your scouting (even 500%) may not increase your chances of winning.
  • Could the programming resources you spend switching to an electronic scouting system improve your chances more if they were spent on improving the competitiveness of your robot? For example, by developing killer autonomous routines, or developing fast, reliable vision targeting?

How did you convince your team to change to electronic scouting, and about how much did it cost.

Show them each advantage along with each disadvantage. If they don’t see them, you will have to explain them.

Acknowledge the costs and have a plan to mitigate them. This is both financial, time, and resource based. It will take more person-hours to create and maintain such a system, and there is more liability for potential risks. Demonstrate those fears aren’t a problem with your team and your system.

Just wondering if you guys use electronic scouting for your team and how much it cost so I can go in with some facts.

Tanner
4946

Researching the costs is something you should do for yourself, as they will be specific to your own implementation.

And, whether other teams are using electronic scouting is absolutely irrelevant to your situation. The worst possible reasoning for making a decision like this is “because other people do it”.

That said, experiences of others are valuable. Our team has done both. We found that developing and maintaining an electronic scouting system was costly in time, money, and student resources. To get it right takes a number of years. The system often needs to be redesigned each year to fit each game. And, when the students with the passion for developing the system graduate, the system falls into disrepair. Our experience is that the cost was not worth the marginal benefit. BUT, our experience should not be generalized as applicable to other teams. Every team is different. That’s why you have to decide for yourselves what will work best for YOU.

I have seen implementations of both electronic and physical scouting on 1764, and I feel like both have their faults. We did field scouting with a team made app on our school issued laptops, it was a tad bit of a hassle to scout this way as the controls weren’t very intuitive compared to the natural motions of using a pencil and paper, also digital had the issue of sharing, we had >10 different members each with their own laptops, so the scouting info all had to be sent to a single laptop for compiling and comparison, it didn’t allow for quick looks at different teams when in a bind. Now physical wasn’t used to field scouting, and I can’t say that it would be good for that, doing different scouting sheets for 6 teams for so many matches is not a good idea, but paper is simple, and you can grab some basic abilities per team from pit scouting before consulting them on strategy before a match (e.g. what defenses can they take, what do they prefer?) but it isn’t feasible as a way to determine picks unless you want to take all that information (from field scouting) and condense it to a usable comparison

Tl;dr: If you do take it on, you will have to test it and refine your design to make sure that it feels right o else you’re going to make scouting (particularly field scouting) much worse for student’s than it already is, try to have a design made before consulting the rest of your team

115 did electronic scouting last year, and our overall cash investment was close to $0. A couple members spent several months on an app that would use QR codes to transmit data to a central phone. “Slave” phones would take data for a match/robot and generate a QR code that could be decoded into data. The “master” phone would quickly read all the QR codes post-match and put them into a spreadsheet.
As a result, we just used the students’ Android phones and an app, so we didn’t need to buy any tablets or phones. However, I believe we spent many more hours on this approach compared to just using a pre-made app. If you have people with the skills twiddling their thumbs, electronic scouting doesn’t need to be difficult.

Last year, I made a scouting app using https://www.appsheet.com/. Basically its google forms on steroids. It allows you to easily make input fields and quickly files information in a google sheets. In addition it runs on both iOS and Android. The students mainly used their own phones to scout. (A few used a couple of tablets we had lying around because of the “bigger screen experience”. They simply just tethered their tablets to their phones in order to use the app).

The benefits of this approach are:

  • It can run on both iOS and Android, so students can just their own phones keeping cost at $0
  • The data is uploaded to a google sheets, and data analysis on google sheets is very easy and can be as extensive as you want
  • Live updating data allows the drive team to have access to the latest data, that is potentially useful in making sstrategy decisions for matches
  • Scouters dont have to worry about having to sync every phone to a “master phone” before the data is uploaded. Each phone uploads data automatically and individually for ease of access
  • All the other tools of google sheets are useable, along with a vast number of other easy to use features. For example, I used google sheets’ JSON import function to import match data and team data from The Blue Alliance.

Electronic systems provide certain advantages, but also some disadvantages. Figuring out what kind of scouting system is best for your specific team’s resources can be a challenge, and there’s no one-size-fits-all system.

Electronic systems can provide a ton of additional data analysis tools, and possibly reduce the manpower needed to run a system.

Electronic systems can also require a ton of additional work beforehand, can be subject to possible malfunction, and can require additional resources while at competition.

I’d suggest undergoing a discussion with your team where you objectively evaluate your options, and then put in the work before competition season to test it and make sure it works for you.

Last year 423 experimented with a paper/electronic hybrid scouting system. Match data was recorded by hand on faux scantrons and then a central computer scanned and interpreted the scantrons and tabulated the data. It worked fairly well in testing (it was only developed for our last local competition), but it needs some more work before it actually becomes feasible to replace paper-only scouting. The end result, however, will be an electronic scouting system that doesn’t cost the team anything (other than paper - we already had a spare laptop and webcam) and doesn’t rely on the members’ using their own phones (because a number of our members don’t have smartphones).

Your strategists and scouters are really the ones to make or break this argument. Their jobs are directly affected by it, for better or worse.

A lot depends on what kind of data they find important. Stats (points scored, misses, fouls, etc.) for each robot works well. Qualitative assessments (stability, execution speed, durability, etc.) or showing illustrations (routes, critical point on the robot, etc.) can be harder to incorporate into a good UI. This is especially true if your UI did not anticipate a game metric your strategists would want.

Does your team currently have the tools to use electronic records in a way that would make a difference to your strategists during an event? If not, you may be putting the cart before the horse.

Regardless of how your team chooses to implement, I recommend ensuring your scouting system serves the people who use it and not the other way around.

Tanner,
At this point of my time in FIRST I have gone through many different scouting approaches, many resulting in failure with a few successes dotting the path. The key point that I have come to recognize is that people don’t want to sit through hours of data interpretation and list tabulation, they want a developed pick list in one shot, scouting meeting done in a half hour. I do not know how far along in you are in your solution, but here is my recommendation:

I have found quantitative data is often over stressed, there is only so much numbers can tell you when you are not in possession of the whole picture. It is often the case a team is more concerned with the ‘how’ more than the ‘why’. If you can find a way to collect the ‘hows’ (quantitative) via a familiar method (paper) and the ‘whys’ (qualitative) via your method (electronic), it may prove to be a fine stepping stone for electronic in later events or for next season. There should be several ready-made solutions floating around (i.e. google forms) that allow you to have several quick-to-answer, pertinent questions on how the individual robot and the alliance fared during the match. With these qualitative ratings comes the ‘wrapped’ quantitative data and any other stuff that may have slipped through the cracks. It may not be easy to separate, but it will serve you better than trying to calculate individual scores and the like. Once this has proved its usefulness a move to a full blown electronic solution should not be a tough one.

I convinced my team over 4 long years of ‘fixing what ain’t broke’, making slow but steady progress. Paper has served us well and we are still using aspects of systems past. Our primary concern has shifted less from data manipulation and more towards data integrity. There is this one quote, maybe a little too relevant in this situation, that I have come to appreciate:

The word you’re looking for isn’t simple, it’s *familiar *.
-Venkat Subramaniam

Once your team sees that electronic isn’t any more work (and in most cases is less) than paper I’m willing to bet they will drop some of that familiarity in favor of a different implementation.

Just my thoughts, I hope you find success,
Skye Leake
FRC Team 876

That’s freaking brilliant.

There does not have to be any cost to go to electronics scouting. Almost everyone has the technology with them in their pockets. Nor do you have to write an app. We have been doing electronics scouting for years. Simply create a Google Form(s), that enables information to be input, and then write up some formulas to analyze the data in Sheets and you have a complete cloud based electronic scouting system in minutes. We even have parents in the stands functioning imputing data. Our drive team and scouts work very closely together during the entire competition. The drive coach and the driver are focusing on the current match and the scouting lead/ strategist is focusing one-two matches ahead. At the end how the students play the game is not always based strictly on the numbers, but they play into how they play and they at least consider the data. If we did not have electronic scouting and match scouting, then that would not be possible. I would also highly suggest that you practice this. Sit down and watch the week one regionals/ districts and keep the stats and ask yourself how would we play the game. Just remember no plan of attack survives first contact.

I have built/building a web based scouting application that is very mobile friendly. The url is https://www.frcscout.resnick-tech.com. I have begun updates for FIRST STEAMWORKS so some stuff is still in progress. Please feel free to sign up and register your team and play with it.

It seems that there would need to be some sort of data pull from TBA. Is this integrated? You seem to have such data after examining your data tables with information such as Rank.

Also, an interesting question I just came up with; does all data you collect sync with all other users collecting data from your app? (ie if I am Team 4674, and someone does early pit scouting, and we say that our climbing mechanism is not currently functional, and they enter that, then we fix it at a later time, and another team comes and conducts pit scouting, also with your applet, and we can climb, but the preexisting data says we cant, is there any sharing of the data globally between users to create such conflict or is the data stored between users only?

I’m so glad you asked. This is built on TBA’s API and webhooks (push notifications). New events and teams are pulled every 3 days. Using the TBA webhooks, I subscribe to event schedule updates, match score updates, upcoming match so as soon as TBA has new info, it is pushed to my servers and is then pushed to the users in real time. This means scouts to not have to populate teams, schedules, or final match scores and can spend the time scouting.

Now to the other question. Is scouted data public or private? My hope with this project is to eventually allow teams to choose if they want to share their data and to allow teams to choose if they want to see other’s data. However as of now, scouted data is private. What you scout on your team is not seen by another team. I suspect this feature will not become a thing until after this season at least. I started development of this application this past summer so I need to focus on core functionalities for its inaugural season.

Any and All feedback is welcome. Please use the site and play around using the test event (2017test) to practice scouting and test functionality. I can also create test events for your team only (I will probably go down this route in the future). please email me (see about page) or post here with any comment, suggestions, errors, feature requests…

Alex

Looks really cool. And you can pay per user or per month… and it’s not outrageous.