Scouting is the process of collecting information about the various robots that are competing at a particular regional or the Championship Event, and turning that information into something useful that can be used later for picking partners in finals. It can also be thought of as “Intelligence and Strategy”. Scouting is a very important aspect of competition, and is vital both for game strategy.
While, at first glance, scouting appears to be easy, and is often overlooked by rookie teams (and a few veteran teams too), it is actually a quite a challenge in terms of information management. The organization required for mounting a scouting effort can be enormous. Collecting information on 40 or more robots, including their performance during practice and qualification matches, strategies that are used, strengths and weaknesses of the robot, special abilities, organizing it into something manageable, and then distributing the relevant information to the people who need it, when they need it, is quite a formidable challenge.
This is why it is so vitally important to do as much preparation for scouting as possible before the competition.
Methods of Scouting
There are many different scouting methods of scouting, all of which have their pros and cons. It’s important to choose one of the many scouting methods so that there will be enough time for the team to prepare the information for competition. With proper preparation, scouting can be an incredibly useful tool that can give a team the edge it needs to win a competion, and picking the method or methods best for your team is essential to success.
Some teams will program a database can have raw data entered in, and push out statistics. The includes in excel form, in a graphical form (including pictures of the team’s robots, and so on), or combinations of the two. Databases can be a great tool; however, they do have their flaws. If a database crashes….boom. There goes all your data. ALWAYS keep written data in addition to a database, if you use one. Also, the database is only as good as it has been programmed to be. Some will be far more functional than others, and some may lack functionality to the point an excel sheet is better. Note: Databases are usually best kept in objective form; save subjective data for notes, an excel sheet, or other method.
Excel sheets are common method of getting all the data onto one readable and sortable form. Excels sheets are great on their own or accompanying notes and/or a database. If you have notes, you can pull all that raw data into one place, and have something much more manageable to work with when deciding on picks. With a database, not only can that data on the database be interpreted into an excel sheet, but scout can also create a sheet of subjective data. If it comes down to teetering on two or more teams positions on the list, things will come down to subjective data.
Good ol’ pen and paper. When all else fails, this is the place to go. Either way, you should ALWAYS have written records of your scouting prior to having them placed in an electronic format. You never know when something might fail.
It’s also very helpful to other teams scouting if a team does such things as preparing a robot info sheet, updating their team’s FIRST Wiki profile, updating their team’s website frequently, or having someone qualified on the team regularly available to answer questions about the team’s robot at competition. Some teams have created databases that can generate basic information of this sort automatically, and prepare it in a printable form; however, pencil and paper or manual searching works, too.
In the end, things will come down to the Scout, and whether or not they did their job properly. If a scout is uninterested and goofs off, he isn’t taking reliable data. If a scout is biased toward a certain team or robot feature, he may not be making the best decisions when it comes to picking teams. Knowing the scouts, and how to keep them doing great work while still having a good time, is the most critical part to scouting’s success.
To have scouts working efficiently and without conflict, the proper hierarchy must be installed. Here are some tips to creating a successful hierarchy:
- There should be somebody making sure all scouts are on task. Some teams refer to this position as the “The Knuckle Breaker” or the “Scout Captain”. This person should have a great temperament, be a focused individual, as well as be able to watch a match and all of his scouts at the same time.
- There should somebody in charge of making sure all necessary data gets collected. _Example: _ If he wants to know about human players, the enforcer makes sure it happens. It’s his responsibility to make sure everything thats needed to collected for alliance selection is collected. This person should be calm and informed.
- It may be a good idea to have one person in charge of making sure the teams that will be picked for the alliance are the right picks. He should have a lighter workload during the day to focus intently on all robots performance. He should stay in contact with the Drive Team to take notes on how well teams worked with their own. This person should be calm, focused, and unbiased.
- The should be “Collectors” whose primary job is to take data on robots and keep mental and physical notes of their performance. There should be enough of these to rotate them out for break often, as this job gets very tedious, very fast.
- There should be a runner between the pits and the stands to pass information back and forth between the Drive Team, Pit crew, and scouts.
Morale for scouts in the stands can get very low, very fast. You need to keep spirits up or people wont want to do their jobs anymore. Here are some tricks to try and keep people happy:
- Allow for many breaks on the more tedious jobs
- Give scouts noisemakers and other fun spirit objects
- Have scouts hold up and wave signs during your teams matches. This gives them an excuse to stand up and stretch their legs, and encourages cheering
- The scouts will get hungry, and wont be able to go to lunch until after noon. Brink snacks and water, if allowed by the event.
- Passing around some inside jokes and mentioning funny phrases or memes at the right moment can help break tension, which runs high throughout the day. Encourage these things, as long as their not crossing any lines.