Reflections on Scouting 07

This has been the best year that our team has ever seen, the level of leadership and teamwork that I’ve witnessed has been simply amazing. Our student designed and built robot was finished ahead of schedule, it went on to the semifinals at the Denver Regional this weekend, two of our mentors were given awards (Woodie Flowers, Regional Volunteer), and our team won the Xerox Creativity award. So put in short, things have gone incredibly well this season.

As far as scouting, that also went incredibly well, and while the memories of competition are still fresh in my mind, I’m writing these things down as a guide for other teams. We’ve put in a lot of work and thought into our scouting, and it would be wonderful if other teams can learn from our successes and mistakes. Feel free to contact me if you need help or advice with your scouting endeavors. So without further adieu, here is a review of how our scouting went this year.

** =========================**

** What Went Right…**

** People**
We had a small group of 2-3 highly dedicated members exclusively doing scouting and strategy. Each person worked their hardest and our small size allowed us to move quickly. While it is possible to force people to scout, I’ve learned that the best work comes from a small group of people that are passionate about what they do. And the passion that our scouts showed incredible. I’d like to especially thank Mark, who’s hard work and dedication made this thing possible. I know he’ll make a great leader when he takes over scouting over next year.

** Location**
FIRST was quite kind to the scouts this year, they set aside an official Scouting Station! It was essentially two tables with power strips and a good view of the field, but it was great being able to talk to the scouts from other teams and compare information. Being on the travel level also allowed very quick runs back and forth between the pits.

** Equipment**
Printer, camera, laptop, software, scoutbooks… We were prepared for competition. Until you’ve tried it for yourself, you cannot realize how wonderful it is having a digital copy of all your information ready to modify and print off within minutes. While I mainly did scouting and strategy in the pits, writing down information in the scoutbook and taking pictures, Mark and Kevin were up at the Scouting Station with the laptop watching matches and typing out team info and match breakdowns. Which bring to me to my next point…

** Match Breakdowns**
I cannot recommend these highly enough. Once you start doing these, you cannot live without them. The way they empower you to stratigize for games is unmatched. They are the culmination of all our scouting work, and are the most important thing that we were able to do. For every match, our drivers and alliance partners were given a Match Breakdown, giant photos of the six robots competing and next to them, their strengths and weaknesses clearly spelled out. No longer were there comments of “which team was that? Fifteen forty who? Who the heck is that? Oh, wait I’m thinking of another team. I thought ____ was the defensive bot and team ____ was the ramp? Did I get that backwards? Who are our partners again?” Those comments just didn’t happen, because seeing the teams clearly pictured and summarized allowed us to cut through the confusion that has plagued our strategy sessions in the past. I cannot recommend creating these highly enough.

If your team wishes to create Match Breakdowns, you’ll need to have the previous three things I mentioned, 2-3 highly dedicated people (this is impossible for one person), a good location, and all of the equipment I mentioned earlier. A color printer to print out the information and photos, a camera (any information you collect is meaningless if your drivers are confused about which robot you are talking about, take photos!), a laptop to organize and store the information (battery power is a good thing), software (PIXResizer, OpenOffice, (DON’T USE MICROSOFT WORD TABLES! Use text boxes or frames and avoid unspeakable formatting horrors (shudder))) and scoutbooks to take down the paper version of the information (which will later be transcribed to the laptop). The way our team did it, we could make a Match Breakdown from request to printout in about 10 minutes. If your team does any scouting at all, just having photos of the six robots competing all listed on the same page alone does wonders for strategy sessions.
What Could Have Been Better…**
Scouting Sheets**
As simple as they were, even this was far too much information. The only data that we really needed were the giant photos, average tubes scored, ramps/lift checkboxes, and the comments section. Everything else was extraneous because very few teams were exceptions to the general “4-wheel, tank drive, score high-mid-low, ok torque, medium speed, autonomous close to working” rule of most robots. The very few exceptions to these generalizations should definitely be noted in the comments section, as these are the things that make those robots unique, but otherwise those data fields are mostly wasted space. Any qualitative data such as, “This robot sucks, this one is amazing and difficult to stop, the driver on this team is clueless” ended up being left as mental notes, as in many cases it took discretion to know when is the right time to interject that information, if at all. We quickly realized that we didn’t want to have alliance partners looking at their professionally typed up scouting profile and possibly getting offended when the sheet says in print that they suck at everything. Everything printed should be purely quantitative (yes,no) facts, and you leave the more sensitive (better, worse, incredibly, suck) bits verbally, things go over a lot smoother. Be sure to screen your scouting sheets before you hand them to alliance partners, we almost accidentally offended one of our partners with a stray remark in the comments, though Mallory, our coach caught it before we handed it out. Oops. All in all though, these turned out quite well and served as a great compliment to our Match Breakdowns.
As this was our first year doing photos, they did turn out quite well, but they could have been better. I scoured the web for a few hours the week before and managed to get about a dozen or so photos of teams before the they shipped. Coupled with the ones we took at scrimmage and we had a little over 20 photos ready to go before competition. However then we ran into a little problem. My father took the camera we were planning on using to LA, so we had to use another one that unfortunately could not communicate with my laptop. We ended up having to make a late-night run to Best Buy to use one of their display computers to transfer photos from the camera’s XD card to a USB drive, and back into the laptop. Yeah, a real pain. And then at around midnight I realized that we had actually missed taking photos of teams, and about others needed to be retaken as they were too dark/blurry/bad angle. But because we couldn’t update the photos at competition, we didn’t have the full photo set ready until finals. The other thing was that many teams changed their robots from practice day, from not having their robots fully assembled, to having every team member crowded over it (blocking the shot), to many robots losing arms or ramps due to weight, the robots changed quite a bit from when we took the first round of photos. In conclusion it is very important to be able to update robot photos at competition.
While OpenOffice and PIXResizer (free batch photo processing, very useful) worked alright, we had to spend quite a bit of time drag-and-dropping, switching between 10 different windows, cut-and-pasting, reformatting, and photo resizing… Most of the 10-15 minutes we spent making each Match Breakdown was fairly repetitive and mundane. Most of it could have been automated and sped up.

Team #1861 SharcBytes did something amazing at Denver this year, they took photos of every team and had a simple (Where can you score, do you have a ramp) bubble-in. Friday morning, they passed out this binded packet with every robot in the regional to every team, it was an incredible service to everyone there. During finals selection, almost every driver had one of those in their hands. I was thinking that in the future perhaps we could take a similar approach and automate this process with software, so that during the morning of the qualification rounds, every team is given this nice Match Breakdown of all the robots they have to face that day… It would simplify many team’s lives incredibly…

** Match Recording**
We’ve avoided recording information from matches in the past simply because we haven’t had the manpower to do it. They are an incredible strategy resource, though it takes a lot of work to create, and is difficult to fact-check. Sitting at the at the scouting station, Team 1158 (#1 seed) relied exclusively on match recording, and had about 3-4 scouts up there during every match recording information into their excel database. Towards the end of the day one of their mentor’s got pretty mad because the data that some of the scouts had put in wasn’t accurate (8 tubes scored, 3 collected), but it was impossible to figure out what was accurate and what wasn’t. Knowing exactly, down to the tube what teams have done on the field is very useful, and compliments general recommendations about robots quite nicely. However difficult it may be to record match information, I really do think we should give it a go next year if we’ve got the manpower.
** =========================**

Even considering the shortcomings, our scouting turned out incredible. Our drive team had the information they needed to plan effective strategies, and in the midst of the chaos and confusion, our team was able to remain calm, strong, and focused to do what needed to be done. It’s been a wonderful 3+ years with Team 662, and I am so deeply grateful for the incredible life lessons I’ve had the opportunity to learn here. The experience has been invaluable. Good luck to everyone at at championships, and my best wishes go out to the scouts. May your hard work empower your team to perform at their best.

-Chris Fornof
Scouting VP, Team 662

I’ll just share how we did things and what worked and all that when we were at Boilermaker. That was some of the best scouting we’ve ever done.

Scouting Sheets
Simple. The first lesson when coming up with a scouting sheet. At GSR we had information like “spoilers placed, where tubes were grabbed, if they dropped any, blah blah blah” That stuff doesn’t matter. I don’t care where they got the tube as long as they can get the tubes and place them well. So I simply made a column labled “# of tubes scored in Teleop”. I say column because the scouting sheets were spreadsheets with match number along the side, and the different fields across the top.

So in the cell of “# of tubes scored in teleop” I put 3 lines. The lines were used to tally where the tubes were scored. I didn’t put anything about spoilers because if a team can place a tube, they can place a spoiler.

Autonomous scoring was a simply Y or N. So few teams actually scored in autonomous that it didn’t really matter where they did it. If it comes down to it, we can just go and ask the team where they score in autonomous most of the time.

I repeated this for lifting. I don’t care if a team fell over, if they tried to get up, etc. I only care about whether or not they did it.

One of the best things we’ve done was have the scouts write their initials under the match number. This helps incase there is a problem. If there is, we know who to find.

Our pictures weren’t that great either. Most of them were just the backs of people standing in the pit. We got a handful of successful pictures. Also, when we were printing them out, our black ink started to run out.
Note for next year: Bring extra ink cartridges! I know how we can improve on that though. There’s no one in the way of robots when they are starting on the field. Snap a picture then.

Software? I have no idea about software, but all I know is that it worked beautifully at Boilermaker. We had a very asthetically pleasing database for others to use. It was accessable through the Sundial network to all teams. There was a list of teams. You click on the number and it shows the match information in a similar manner to what our scouting sheets look like.

When we went to Cleveland in 2005, we came up with good scouting information, but it was murder to those who were copying the info from individual sheets to the master sheet for each team. Filing through pain-in-the-neck accordion folders to find the team. Then copying down the information from one half sheet to two full sized sheets (one for the drivers and one to stay in the stands) times three. In the span of two minutes. I was doing this job and I didn’t get to see any matches until Saturday. We don’t scout on Saturday. So basically, we took the good from that (the master sheets, scouting schedule, and overseers) and fixed the bad (thousands of sheets flying around, accordion folders, transfering of info from small sheets to master sheets).

We didn’t have a computer database then, and now that we have one we don’t even use it for our benefit. Atleast we didn’t at Boilermaker because the stands were so close to the field and the pits, but when GSR comes around, we might want to. We made it for the benefit of other teams.

Our pictures weren’t that great either. Most of them were just the backs of people standing in the pit. We got a handful of successful pictures.

A cool trick I found out is if you go up to one of the drivers or someone in the way of your picture and then ask “Would you mind if I took a picture of your robot?”, they’ll usually give you a funny look and say sure, but it’s a polite way of getting everyone clear of the camera shot. We had more issues with just plain forgetting to take photos of teams than on having to retake shots.

When we went to Cleveland in 2005, we came up with good scouting information, but it was murder to those who were copying the info from individual sheets to the master sheet for each team. Filing through pain-in-the-neck accordion folders to find the team.

Hehe, we had the accordion folders at nationals that year too… Evil, evil accordion folders. And about 12 scout books to coordinate into the Master Book, all the handwriting was of various degrees of legibility of course. Crap, those were a pain! How did I ever live without the computer?

Thanks for telling us about Boilermaker! Any other scouts care to ship in their $0.02 about how their scouting went this year?

I saw your sheets and it looked amazing. I espesially like the 15 bot handout you made for selection. My scout team was in awe of your product. Congrats on your award and we’ll see you next year in CO.

We don’t have much handwriting to deal with. The scouts are either circling Y, N, 4", 12", or they are tallying. The only writing we have to deal with is their initials and a column I forgot to mention

It’s basically the defended column. A scout would circle Y or N to indicate whether or not they were defended, then they would list the teams that were defending the team they were assigned to scout. That way we know what’s going on if a team scores 6 tubes in one match and only 1 or 2 in the next.

We ran pretty intense scouting operations at both of our regionals this year. Thursday we took a more relaxed approach, sending one or two people around to fill out our pit scouting form. (We forgot the form in vegas, so we had to make up the questions. Luckily we had a notebook.) Thursday night we inputted the info in our database with pics. The database was a java app from team 768, modified by our programming team. We added some algorithms for offense and defense, as well as some averages.
Friday we had six people in the stands with clipboards and a sheet of paper for every robot in every match. Participants were forced to work this, with the understanding that they were missing school, so ought to be useful. We took relatively detailed notes on autonomous, focus, ringers on each level, ramps, spoilers, and then we asked for an A-F grade and general comments. Friday night we put all of this data into our modified java app, then sorted teams based on number of ringers per match and ramp deployment percentage. This gave us a list of the top scorers, including that we were #12 at LVR.
This info allowed us to generate a very nice scouting report after being selected. We called three of the four quarterfinals correctly, and said that the other (ours) was too close to call. Turns out we beat the #4 in two matches, and 8 managed to beat 1 in one match, while we called 1 over 8 by more than 100 points.
It was a pain to get, enter and analyze all of this data, but it gave us a much better look at the field than FIRST’s rankings. Pity we didn’t get to use it.

danshaffer, match scouting is indeed pretty incredible when you’ve got enough manpower to do it, and it helps incredibly in picking partners. How many people do you think ended up doing scouting work?

I saw your sheets and it looked amazing. I espesially like the 15 bot handout you made for selection. My scout team was in awe of your product. Congrats on your award and we’ll see you next year in CO.

Thank you for your kind words, unfortunately this is my last year with the team, but I know that Mark will do a good job with scouting next year.


Scouting was quite an experience for me this year, that’s for sure. MVRT had a team of 6 students(including me) scouting each match, 1 per team on the field, with a leader supervising them. The leader did a great job making the scouting sheet, and was pretty reliable when they were needed to provide info for the team.

A problem I thought I was going to have was having to concentrate on one team, and I thought that would possibly not allow me to enjoy the matches, turns out I was wrong, dead wrong. Even when I was busy scouting matches, I still had the time to see the big picture of a match.

But the big surprise for the scouting team came on Friday at the Davis Sacramento Regional. We actually won the Kleiner, Perkins, Caufields & Byers Entreprenuership Award partly because of how organized and hard-working we were in scouting. Of course there were plenty of other reasons for winning the award, but this one really stood out to us.

Scouting to us also meant having a meeting at the hotel that lasted til nearly midnight, trying to decide what course of action to take when it came to alliance selections. So overall, scouting kept me really busy, but it sure didn’t stop me from having a great time at the regionals.:slight_smile:

Scouting at the Colorado Regional was defiantly the best this year. Although Alliance pickings seemed a bit rushed after the last preliminary match was done. Good thing the team scouts were constantly on the move to seek out the perfect alliance. I defiantly like the Team Scouting Area FIRST created, that was very neat.

our team had four students that came to the regionals and 3 mentors so the mentors were taking care of talking to people/scouts that came to our pits ; getting lunch ; taking care of where everyone was; helping with fixing the robot by telling us what might be a good idea (not actually touching the robot since our team has a strict student building only rule thing/mentor mentality) to fix a problem that might arise.

1 or 2 of the kids would stay behind for pit work and repair/tightening bolts and the like.

the rest would scout the competetion or strategize the next match with some members from other teams in our alliance.

Our team had four pages of scouting sheets, only one of which turned out to be useful. The two pages of pit scouting didn’t yield any more information than a photograph did. The page of match scouting from Thursday also turned out to be useless, as some teams didn’t show up to their matches and other teams changed their robots dramatically between Thursday and Friday. The only useful information we collected turned out to be the number of tubes scored by a team each match and whether it lifted other robots or was lifted.

When did FIRST set up a scouting station?
I never noticed on in Trenton or Chesapeake. That would have made my job **alot **easier.

Team 987 set up a 3 table scouting station with power at top of lower arena stands for any team interested in setting up a video camera and with blessing of the LVR Planning Committee…it worked out great, especially since the location put cameras above headtops. I wish all regionals would do the same…

Scouting this year was definitely intresting.

In Boston, after taking down all the pit scouting information, they didn’t really need the information so that made my efforts ( however neat and organizied they were ) useless. In match scouting I gave my team sheets to fill out for each robot. With high hopes that this would go better than my pit scouting efforts, I came back an hour later to review their progress, and what do you know? I found a bunch of half-baked efforts and some people refused to do it at all. In the heat of the moment I ripped up 1/2 the match scouting sheets to show how mad I was. Eventually it worked out, because we got our first pick 121 and our other pick (1568 i think?) turned out to be a good alliance, but not enough to take down the “NU-hyper-force” alliance.

Because of my previous expierence in Boston I took a different approach to this, instead of taking pit scouting like i normally do; I took pics of every robot and their drivetrain. Also I spent my whole day next to the field taking match scouting. Because the practice matches were also pretty intense and the same with the qualifying matches, I got a lot of info on every robot. That friday night we made a list of teams that we wanted to be alliance partners with and what do you know? Everything turned out how we wanted to because we got to ally with 1251 and our second pick 1758 I was equally happy with as our second pick. Sadly our alliance wasn’t enough to take those beastly ramps of 1319 and their consecutive 60 bonus points with 342 and 832.

Team 842 here

We have a great new device that makes scouting fun and allows quick data analysis!

Check it out!!!

As for scouting personnel you really need a set team with passionate members. Also, it really helps if the team your scouting has a set person in the pits for scouts to talk to. It’s difficult to just stand there and have no one know any of the answers. 973 had a set person there for scouts to ask questions to. Many of the teams I scouted didn’t. And don’t go saying you need a big team to do this, 973 has 11 people.

For software we use an access database. Also paper scouting sheets.

Anyone know a good small printer btw?

we had six people scouting, one on video, and then our head of scouting (me) doing holistic scouting on all bots, then on highly-ranked and likely-picked bots. the holistic stuff wasn’t as useful as i’d hoped, mostly because the statistics gave us all of the info we needed. basically our staff understood that they were getting two days off from school, so they’d better do something useful.
at LVR we saw a team using Playstation controllers… hope to see some info on those devices. The way to do it would be six laptops, but paper works too. It’s just a pain to digitize. Next year we will do something a little more high-tech.

In Florida, we used a very confusing, and at times complex paper system which was very tedious and annoying. Surprisingly, our scouts held in there and managed to gather some quality data. Unfortunately, it was quite difficult to analyze on the spot to assist our strategy, so a lot of it was a waste until we returned to the hotel Friday evening.

In Las Vegas, I had little intentions of convincing such a small group to commence with scouting, but some down time on Thursday prompted me to whip up a very quick and simple web-based entry form and later, a very simple “match selector” which would provide a formatted page of some statistics and notes on each team of an alliance. The results were amazing for such a simplistic system, and the scouts were actually enjoying what they were doing. By Saturday, our information on each team was relatively accurate and detailed enough to be used to formulate reliable strategies. Several alliance printouts yielded critical data that was utilized to assist in strategy.

I am spending this week to strengthen the system I developed in Las Vegas to be used in Atlanta. It will hopefully influence our strategy in monumental ways and give us better results in the long run. If it is decent enough, I may offer a distributable package this weekend. Additionally, we were tossing around the idea of a collaborative network of scouting data in Atlanta if any teams were interested in our system. If I get enough requests, I can easily make it happen. I shall release more information as it unfolds.

Something that i’ve noticed personally is that despite what it says in your scouting database, strategies of teams tend to change often and vary to adjust to whoever they are allied against.

Just something i remembered about the past regional i attended.

If you have varying scouting data on a team for several matches, it is reasonable to conclude that that team is big on dynamic strategy. Their “advantage” can be reversed by catching them ahead of time and switching up your own strategy in an attempt to counteract their reaction. This is the beauty in scouting and strategy in general. Those who can ultimately foresee, shall prevail. Scouting is merely an attempt to document actions on the field and is not quite half the battle. The interpretation of the data and resulting strategy is what really matters.