Scouting using tablets

We are trying to get away from using paper, and trying to see how other teams are doing it. Were looking at updating something by using 6 tablets. Any suggestions??

If you don’t plan on utilizing an existing scouting system or creating your own, Google Drive/Docs can be very effective (in terms of collecting data through forms that feed into spreadsheets, tallying data in spreedsheets, cataloging photos, etc.). Also, the Android and iOS apps work offline, allowing changes and new items to be synced once connectivity to become available.

We are going to 6 tablets this year after 4 years of paper scouting and one laptop entering data in the stand.

Here are the pros and cons of using tablets.

Pro:

  1. Error checking can be built into the program
  2. Save money and trees not having to make so many scouting sheets each year
  3. Do not have to decipher bad handwriting
  4. Eliminate error in entering wrong team number, match number etc.
  5. Faster transmission of scouting data to drive coach
  6. Easier to do pit scouting and transmitting data
  7. More fun when collecting data

Con:

  1. Initial cost of 6 tablets
  2. Expensive to replace if somebody drops it
  3. Effort and knowledge needed to develop the app

I think the advantage is worth the cost as long as you are making full use of the potential of using tablets. We do not like to rely on internet access to do our scouting. Good luck to your scouting team this year.

Correct me if I’m wrong because I’ve never used the Google apps in this context, but if you have more than one scout editing offline documents at any one time wouldn’t that overwrite the changes of one of the scouts when they finally do sync up?

Very good points. Will you be developing (or have you already developed) your own scouting system?

We are in the process of developing our own. I have looked at other team’s but there isn’t one available that fits the way we do scouting.

I made an app for Android for scouting that can be found here: http://goo.gl/6gKom

It uses Google Fusion Tables to send data from the device to the web. It’s in beta right now and should be done by build season. When the game is unveiled it will update it to send the necessary fields. I strongly recommend that you try it out before build season to see if it’s right for you. If you would like for me to add a feature or change something contact me at the developers email address listed.

Our team is currently working to port our completely live laptop based scouting system to tablets, mostly for increasing the portability overall by getting rid of wired connections and just by using tablets.

If going tablets though, I agree, do not rely on the internet, so you would probably have to implement a bluetooth network of some sort.

i will really check this out!! we were looking at using android tablets!!

I would like to mention that you don’t need necessarily tablets for scouting. We are planning to use the Android phones that members on our team already have.

Phones also have their own data connections, which (in most venues) negates the need to worry about a bluetooth/wifi network for scouting. Of course tablets with built in 3G/4G work too but are more costly.

We’ve used 3G iPads for the last two years for all,of our scouting. Six in the stands and one for the drive coach. Our code is written in PHP and JavaScript and served up,on a we page hosted back at our school. Data is stored in a MySQL database.

Some things we’ve learned:

  1. Never assume your 3G connection will work all the time. The data services can get horribly congested at big venues, especially at championships. You need a system that can deal with its Internet connection being gone for many minutes before reconnecting. AT&T died completely at champs last year as far as data was concerned. We were fine because our iPads just stored up their data and delivered it outside but we would have been hosed otherwise.

  2. Previous rules don’t allow WiFi in the stands. I assume that rule will continue.

  3. Bluetooth isn’t designed for a network, just device to device as best we can tell. If someone figures out how to get six iPads connected via Bluetooth to a single router or computer I’d love to hear more about it.

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Dale, look up “PAN”, or Personal Area Network. It’s method of connecting multiple devices (including computers) using bluetooth and may fit your needs. It’s built into newer versions of windows.

Unless it’s supported on iOS or Android, I’m not sure it would help a ton in this scenario…unless you are using Windows 8 tablets (ha!). As far as I know, Bluetooth PAN functionality is limited to tethering on Android, and even that requires third-party apps.

Last year our FIRST Team 1073 decided to develop a tablet based scouting application to replace the dreaded paper sheets and manually entered spreadsheets. We decided to go the Android route for two reasons: (1) Java is a more broadly applicable language for the students to learn, and (2) the Android tablets were more cost effective than the Apple devices.

We purchased three (budget constraints) Acer 7-inch tablets, along with protective cases and rubber bumpers. These devices have proven to be very reliable and with the cases, all survived several competitions intact. The 7-inch model is a good size, too. This year we hope to purchase additional devices so that we can scout all six teams in a given match. The Acer tablets can be bought for anywhere from $150-$250.

The tablet application itself (actually two apps: one for pit scouting and one for match scouting) is essentially an electronic version of the paper sheets. The apps also allow the scouter to take pictures and video, naming the captured media files according to the team number of the subject. The scouting data itself is saved within the device as a text file, again named according to the team subject. We wrote the app(s) in a general way so that each year, we can develop a new ‘sheet’ with minimal new development. Ask me next month how we did on that front;-)

There is a central laptop running a data processing application that takes the data from the tablets, parses the information and stores it into a database. From there, we have a series of report generators that apply weights to the collected data attributes, and generate a draft pick-list of prospective alliance partners. The laptop application is written in python and uses SQLite as the database. Recent changes to the data processing application allows us to keep the pick-list up to date in real time, which should be helpful at comp.

Transferring the scouting data off the tablets to the central laptop was a bit of a hassle early on. We didn’t have much luck using USB cables to allow the laptop to pull the files directly off the tablets. It was hit or miss on whether it would work properly. We also wanted to use bluetooth, and purchased a software package that ran on both the PC and the tablets, but that turned out not to be very reliable. In the end, we wrote our own bluetooth sync service on the tablets and the PC that transfers the files from the tablets to the PC (think HTTP over bluetooth sockets), triggered by a button on the tablet application. Like other posters indicated, we didn’t want to rely on 3G access or the availability of WIFI at comp for our scouting app to work. While bluetooth can be a bit finicky, it has worked pretty well for us, in the configuration where each tablet sync’s its data files to the central computer.

This year, we plan to focus our new development on the report generation and information sharing aspects of the overall scouting application. The central laptop application supports a web server that allows anyone with a browser to view the data. We found that particularly useful at our strategy meetings that we hold at night while at comp. Previously, we all needed to huddle around a single machine to look at the data, but now everyone can peruse all the data on their own. But, we need a more refined user interface, and that’s where we will focus some energy.

While the application isn’t completely ready for prime time, we would like to share what we are doing with other interested teams. Feel free to contact me directly via PM for more info (this post is far toooo long)…

Ken St. (aka RoboScout)
FIRST Team 1073

Our team went paperless last year. It is defiantly the way to go. The biggest challenge is power for your devices. Each venue is different. A mentor and student leader must approach the proper venue staff and the FTA to make sure everyone is ok with the setup.

Dale,

How did the batteries in the IPads hold up. We were using laptops last year.

If your rely on nothing other than 3G/4G connections, why would the FTA need to be asked? If the system uses any WiFi access point, I think we already know that’s prohibited.

I’m hoping that with 9 hour+ battery life, tablets would be able to do the job (perhaps with a top-off over lunch).

Last year, Team RUSH used iPads for scouting, and their batteries held up very well, we never had to charge them at the venue. Of course, we charged them overnight at the hotel.

Yep, our batteries on the iPads were generally about 20% at the end of the day. We turn the brightness down, turn off Bluetooth and WiFi, and put them to sleep when there are long breaks in the matches. We also lock them down and hide apps and browsers so our scouts are not tempted to play games between matches (using up battery power and bandwidth.)

We never asked the FTA about using 3G, that’s not anywhere close to the spectrum FIRST uses and its use is rampant in the stands anyway.

Yes we use bluetooth. The tablets do not need to be all on a network. We have a master tablet and all other tablets transmit data to the master tablet through bluetooth after each match one at a time. The other tablets do not “talk” to each other. The master tablet then transmit data to a laptop whenever it is close by. The data is used in an Excel spreadsheet by coach and drive coach. The Android app is currently being developed by a student on the team.

We like tablets over laptops because tablets can last a whole day without charging but laptops need to be plugged in.

We do not want to rely on the internet because some venues do not get 3G connections.

We considered using Android phone but the screen is too small. You can make it work but it will limit how you scout.