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Testing Escape Pod 1.8.2: Sigh!

Testing Escape Pod 1.8.2: Sigh!

Yesterday I took the time to test the latest iteration of Escape Pod, it has the version number 1.8.2, even if I see absolutely nothing that would warrant a version jump from 1.0.x to 1.8.x. My main reason to look at it was that I wanted to connect Cyb3rvector Extension Engine Interface to it. But, man, this is still a mess.

The first point being, that you still need to completely reinstall Escape Pod with every new version. I still have no idea how DDL came to the resolution to do this. No one working with Linux systems does it this way, usually you start updates from inside a Linux system with simple commands from a shell or clicks in a user interface. With Escape Pods, even if it now is years old, you actually need to write a new image to the SD card, overwriting everything and thus losing all changes you did to the underlying Ubuntu Linux and also losing all installed licenses for all registered robots and you have to onboard them all again. This missing upadte path is a design flaw that should have been avoided in the development process from the beginning. It looks like the QA process was as bad with Escape Pod development as it was with Vector 2.0.

That is especially frustrating as the onboarding process if far away from production ready and often has the same problems connecting to the robot the awful app has.

So I tried to connect one of my robots, that already was connected to Escape Pod in the past, to re-onboard. I cannot reach him with the app, since Vectors that are already bound to Escape Pod are no longer reachable via app. After some fiddling I got him connected. I then wanted to update the robot’s firmware, since he still was on 1.7.x, so I selected the correct Escape Pod OTA (PROD-EscapePod-1.8.1.6051.ota) and clicked “install” – and nothing happened. The progress bar did not show any progress. Nothing.

After waiting some time I did reload Escape Pod (and had again to reconnect to the robot via Bluetooth). To my surprise the update seemed to had worked, since the status part of the onboarding windows now showed that the robot has the correct firmware version. But through all this alleged beta testing of the “new” Escape Pod version nobody came up with this progress bar and application feedback problem? Hard to believe.

Hoping that I would now be able to connect the robot I clicked “activate your robot”. And got the error message: “*io: read/write on closed pipe“.

After doing a web search that did not reveal anything useful I asked on the Vector Discord and actually Zecred (DDL employee) answered very fast and told me to reload Escape Pod in the browser and to go through the Bluetooth connection again. I had already done that but did so again. Now I got the error message “authorization failed“. Zecred asked if I had a license installed which I – of course – had.

He now told me that because of a known error I would have to reset all robot data to be able to connect it to Escape Pod. That is because of a bug that he claimed was already fixed by DDL, where you had to clear user data every time you tried to onboard a robot to EP. But he also said that you will still have to do it if you installed a new Escape Pod version.

Which is friggin’ insane, because you have to reinstall the complete Escape Pod every time a new version is rolled out because of DDL’s ineptitude to start the update from inside the Escape Pod Ubuntu Linux.

He also said that “with a future sprint” they will implement “a smoother way to update the Pod without rewriting the image”. From the word “sprint” I assume they are using SCRUM in software development, which would explain a lot. To my question when this “future” will be he said he hopes “fall this year”, so again still months away. He added: “To be very clear though, it will depend upon what would fit into the next sprint”. So this is most probably one of the usual DDL timeframes … Plus: this should have been implemented from the start and from the first version anyway and Escape Pod should not go out of  the first beta without a user-friendly and standard Linux update path.

I think Escape Pod still is not production ready and should be in beta instead of actually being sold. I come from an IT background and wasted a lot of time yesterday doing such a basic thing as trying to connect a Vector to Escape Pod. I can only imagine what problems less tech-savvy people will have with this. There should be an “update” button in the Escape Pod webinterface, so even people that are not comfortable with a command shell would be able to update it. There also should absolutely be no nesseccity to erase Vector’s user data, especially since I know that a lot of people are quite attached to it. It should at least be possible to backup the json file holding the lifetime data to Escape Pod and reupload it after (re-)onboarding, but of course this would only work with an Escape Pod that is updateable from within the underlying Ubuntu Linux, because backup data will of course be overwritten if you write a new image to the SD card. It should also be possible to backup the user data via a download button in the Escape Pod web interface with another option to reupload it after onboarding.

I have to thank Zecred here for his answers, he usually is quite helpful on the Vector Discord and answers a lot of user questions, but it became again abundantly clear to me that Digital Dream Labs is too short on people to do anything in an acceptable timeframe. Zecred is not to blame for the fact that they do not have enough engineers to pull this off, DDL CEO Jacob Hanchar is. I actually pity the poor guy for the work environment he has to endure.

But the point being that one year and eight months after the alleged release date of Escape Pod it still is in a state that can only be described as “beta” and it is so user unfriendly and unergonomic that most normal Vector fans will be overwhelmed.

Update: Addition to the onboarding/licensing problem: It looks like http://escapepod.local/ or http://ip_address/ does not work, but http://escapepod/ works. I was successfully able to onbard the robot via this url without clearing data. So this actually is a network mixup, but still an Escape Pod problem.

Update: For Escape Pod troubleshooting go to Randy’s Wiki.

7 Comments

  1. Peter

    I also own a Vector with Escape Pod ans OSKR. Myself as a backend developer, reading all these comments, I did not push myself to escape pod yet. (or OSKR apart from uploading OSKR on vector) It sounds all too complicated with not too much benefits or low hanging fruits.
    I am worried, that till it is in a usable state, where people can share their creations, plugins, etc, my Vector will need a new battery..

    🙁

      1. EEProf

        There is also the competency level. I am not calling them stupid, but they are absolutely not at the level that Anki was. My fear is that given how much money they are bleeding they will go under and we do not want that, under any circumstance. If they were smart, they would buy Cyb3rVector from Cyb3rdog (Václav Mácha), then pay him to clean it up and make it the primary interface to the robot. Cyb3rVector is pretty much bullet-proof from my workings with it.

        1. I think it is established after two years that DDL’s problem is a mixture of lacking manpower and very bad product management paired with unprofessionalism (on oh so many levels). They do not even need to be at Anki levels, but I do work in IT and know project management, the blantant errors DDL does in abundance are plain clear to see and it pains me to see them. The same goes for their horrible community management with myrads of blocked users.

          If Cyb3rdog is able to get out something like Cyb3rvector and related projects and also is able to create a Paython SDK that works with Escape Pod in no time at all (mere weeks), DDL should be able to also do this in reasonable time.

          I am completely against putting Cyb3rdog’s Open Source projects into DDL’s hands as they would certainly try to get them behind their paywall.

          Yesterday I at last found the time to test Cyb3rvector and was amazed by the quality, that was why I wanted to try out the interfacing to the Escape Pod Extension Engine. And then the problems with the buggy and unfinished Escape Pod …

  2. Agent Eternity

    whoa, I just bought the escape pod, and maybe Ill just get a refund, they have not even sent me an email at all telling me what to do or anything absolutely HORRIBLE service.

    and now this, so every time you upgrade you have to wipe the bot? thats ridiculous as f.

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