I am one of many scouting app developers looking to make the best scouting app there has ever been. Unfortunately, that is nearly impossible due to the large number of aspects that goes into developing an app.
This year, I’m trying to experiment with automatic Bluetooth, USB, and/or WiFi communication (to a master computer with custom software). Surprisingly, when looking at all the apps already out there, I did not find one that connected with a computer software and transferred data without any manual work. Being the anxious person I am, this threw a couple red flags for me. If I can’t find anything like this, what is the “Great Barrier” that is stopping this feature from being released?
I wanted to know what your opinion is on automatic data transfer (along with a custom computer software) like this. What would be the ups and downs that are almost unthinkable at the testing stage for a developer? If you are a scouting app developer, have you tried something like this before? If something like this existed, would your team migrate over to it as long as it was proven error free?
Thanks! I know there are a lot of questions, I just want your opinions on all of this.
I wouldn’t depend on having a WiFi or cellular data signal at the event. Setting up your own WiFi hotspot is specifically illegal, and the quality of venue WiFi or cell service depends on the event location and number of people in attendance. Best to have another method for data transfer.
Popular options include Bluetooth, a hardwire, USB flash drive, or barcode/QR code. I’m pretty sure all of those have been used for scouting apps by various teams in the past. It’s possible they haven’t been posted publicly though.
All this being said, the “ultimate scouting app” has been tried many times in the past, and it never really works. Different teams want different things from their scouting apps, and many teams don’t like relying on an outside source for any updates that may be needed. My suggestion would be to figure out what your team specifically wants from a scouting app and design around that. If you post it online and other teams end up using it, great; but that shouldn’t be your initial goal.
Peregrine is a PWA which can operate offline (on supported browsers), store reports in html5 web storage, and then magically upload them to the server when you open the app while connected to the internet. Most of our events have cell service anyways, but it’s a good backup if there’s a shoddy connection or something (e.g. scout all morning with shoddy internet in the stands, go outside and upload reports at lunch).
It’s the lowest friction solution I’ve seen (reports get synced in the background, all you’ve gotta do is visit the app with an internet connection after working offline).
Wow! I know in research last year for “form type apps” to scout Infinite Recharge, the biggest issue was that the services often promised offline compatibility but never completely followed through. It looks like this web app has nailed it looking at the original post you linked!
My first thought for my app (now developed using Xamarin) was to make it a web app as we use Amazon Fire tablets primarily to scout our teams. I was worried about the difficulty to implement the features I really wanted into a web app, but this looks like it hit a lot of them quite well. I’ll check it out more in depth to see what I can do to make my app’s communication more smooth.
Actually, we used this app during 2019 Deep Space! I was not a high school student at the time, so I don’t have all the details. According to my scouting friends, the Bluetooth feature (which they were most excited about) broke several times at state and world competitions. I also recall the same people telling me that the Bluetooth was not easy to configure, but I haven’t directly tried it out myself. The configuration I’m mainly looking for is a system that auto connects to a BLE peripheral after X number of matches (with an offset for each tablet to keep the system uncluttered). I will dig deeper into the system that 2052 uses again.
Ignite (6829) and Otto (1746) developed a Crowd sourced platform. We had 6 teams beta test last year. Looking to open up to PCH this season. We developed a cloud server, a team server, and an android app. The system is patterned off the 1678 scouting platform. QR code to transfer data from the app to team server in the stands. If the team server has internet connectivity, it uploads basic scoring data (think data you’d find on TBA) to the cloud server. If there isn’t internet, you can upload later after day 1. The cloud server has an api that team servers upload to. Then every few minutes the cloud server gathers all the basic scoring data to catch scouting errors. So if 4 teams scouted Team 9999 to move in Auton and 1 team scored them as Not Moving, the Cloud server would record Moved in the ‘Verified’ table. Team servers would pull down verified data from the cloud server. The ‘voting’ process patterns after 1678’s voting process.
Since the cloud server has an api, teams could choose to use our app or develop their own app. Additionally, teams can choose to create a google form and register it with the cloud server, allowing them to join the scouting alliance.
For transferring QR code to the laptop, instead of writing our own code and having to worry that we had a phone handy, we bought a $50 QR code scanner. Looks like those ‘gun scanners’ you see at stores. This way student ‘just knew’ how to use it. The scanner just looked like a keyboard to the laptop. PM me if you’d like more info.
Neat! The team will use this for two years, the kid that made it will graduate and even if they trained someone to maintain it that won’t work, we’ll devolve into chaos for a few years, and some sophomore will take the opportunity to make a scouting program.
Not my team’s experience, but seems about typical.
These are very interesting questions. To be completely honest, I do not have an answer to all of them. That should show as a sign that I still have a lot of work to do. Here are some that I can give on my app:
The app will allow for quick and automatic data validation and flagging using official TBA data. This will also allow quick analysis of all the data in one place. Since my current version of the app includes more specific questions like “Defense?” or “Positioning”, we would be able to put that data together in seconds.
This is a tough one to answer at the moment as my data validation is not fully tested. I can say that the methods that are possible and still ideas in my head will reduce a lot of garbage. In all systems however, there will always be a way to get around that (without intention from the developer). The goal is to flag all weird data collection entries for manual review if something doesn’t match up to the TBA data.
Definitely. While the tablet scouting can take some of the responsibilities of paper scouting and TBA analysis, it will never fully replace it. This may be for several reasons. For my team specifically, we have our trained scouters (who watch TBA videos almost every week) do the paper scouting, while team members who may not be in scouting do the tablet scouting. With our team size being over 100 students, tablet scouting will add to the additional methods by giving a simple way for others to help collect data without having to fully know the deep strategy behind it.
This is one of the issues that I have not found a problem to. Over the scouting apps I have researched on however, they’ve taken a method of using generic statements to count game elements. Instead of saying “Team 862 collected 5 power cells in the inner port at cycle 4”, they allow the user to watch the game and then make a generic statement at the end of the match. Unfortunately my app has gone the opposite direction and opted for the more specific approach. I hope to find a way to make it so the scouters do not have to take their eyes off of the field as much.
As a rising developer and someone who is looking for a career in computer science, yes it is definitely worth the effort. Even for the team, it allows a user friendly way to collect data that we have full control over. When it comes to being better than other methods, there’s no definite answer. I will say that I am proud of my work so far, but another app or even something like paper scouting could be better. There are a multitude of different factors when it comes to rating methods of scouting, and I think for my team in specific, my app is better for the factors that we want to focus on. For a team that is smaller and may not have 6 tablets on hand, I totally agree that there are better methods than my app to use.
These are just my interpretations of a pre-beta app I’ve created. Of course if I had a perspective where I wasn’t working on this for the whole summer, I would answer these questions differently.
I know our team has had an issue like this exactly before. Our custom app was not maintained because the student/Mentor who created it left or lost interest entirely. I do want to think positively for the app in a sense where “it probably will work for a year or two”. Everything ends eventually, and my idea or app is no exception. I want to think of it as a learning project and something to look excited for. If my team happens to win a competition using it without errors, I will be super proud!
Some folks have developed a way to scout using game controllers. I’m not 100% on all the details, but if you’ve got something tactile they can interact with that’d mostly solve that problem. The problem is, that adds hardware–even a tablet keyboard could probably do something like that but you still need to figure out what to do and how.
Hardware has always been the reason a tablet scouting system is dead in the water for me. I’ve had the pleasure of managing a 50-strong tablet fleet, and there were a couple failure modes I know would be game over in a time-compressed event. (One was a sync issue for necessary files that didn’t get fixed before the tablets were shut off from the internet, others were related to charging that could be limped along if you had an inverter.) Add in the intricacies of loaning another team our equipment and that few hundred dollars of equipment only getting used for maybe 3ish events a year (including off-seasons), and we’re in the paper camp too.
Beyond the paper/tablet question…
I’m curious how you plan to account for the lag in TBA match data coming available. It’s usually on a one-or-two-match delay, based on my experience with trying to use TBA data on our scouting spreadsheet. And at least with our scouts, trying to get answers for a forgotten field (say, starting position) more than one match later is problematic at best.