It is now nearly three years after the successful end of Digital Dream Lab’s Kickstarter campaign that was deceivingly called “Vector Unleashed”. So far we can state one thing quite clearly: DDL did not “unleash” Vector, on the contrary, they leashed him very well to themselves to extort as much money out of customers as possible. And despite all the money collected on Kickstarer and from countless financing rounds: What did they actually achieve?
So after nearly three years:
- there were only very minor updates to the Andoid and iOS apps, basically the apps are still the mess they were when Anki left off. Shouldn’t three years be more than enough time for a professional company (even a small one) to improve that app? But so far the only thing of note was to add the option to change the eye color and that is a laughingly simple feature to implement. Aside from that: nothing.
- While other companies releasing small toy robots and desktop pets are able to provide nearly monthly updates for their products (even despite being sued by DDL): Do you remember any meaningful feature additions or updates for Vector? No? That is no wonder, there were none worth the name, only small tweaks to the cloud servers to generate some additional responses. I demonstrated in another article and video how incredibly simple it is to do something like that. But there were no real updates to the Vector firmware adding real new functions. And that despite a monthly fee you have to pay them, the money collected on Kickstarter and the financing rounds raking in millions. Another letdown is that they degraded the 1st generation robot with every update. Loved sounds were removed, the ability to find back to their chargers was greatly diminished and with the latest forced update to 2.0 they even invented a bug that lead and leads to overheating robots or at least robots running considerably hotter than before. So they do not even not update the firmware, they degrade the robots instead. One must ask: Why are there no real firmware updates and function additions to Vector’s firmware? Digital Dream Labs has their hands on the complete source for three years and for a professional company with professional engineers it should absoutely be doable to expand that robot. Why hasn’t this happened? And: please, not the old semi-argument “we are only a small team”! That has worn off a long time ago.
- OSKR, the Open Source Kit for Robots, was part of the Kickstarter campaign and promised for October 2020. They promised to open source the robot and they promised clearly on Kickstarter to offer the possibility to create “open Vector builds” based off OSKR. They also promised to enable third parties to create additional functions for Vector. Was anything of that actually delivered? The answer is: Absolutely not. The onlly thing you can do with the so-called OSKR so far is to partially unlock a production vector into some kind of “dev” robot. But not a full dev robot, since you cannot really develop for him, because the most parts of the robots firmware are still closed source, there is no toolchain and nearly no documentation (only how to unlock Vector into that semi-dev bot). There were no updates on OSKR for months and so to me it looks like they have completely abandoned it (most probably because they cannot make money from it). Despite the fact that the OSKR promised on Kickstarter was not delivered, they declared the pledge reward as “fulfilled” and ceased to communicate on Kickstarter. To me selling things that are never delivered is a classic scam.
- What actually was released is the so-called Escape Pod, a local server Vector can run off instead of the cloud servers. unfortunately it was buggy, difficult to setup and difficult to get into the local network and it was feature incomplete, since basic functionality like weather and knowledge graph was (and is) missing. In addition to that they implemented a so-called “extension engine” to enable third parties to expand Escape Pod, which looked like a great idea at first glance (even if the documenation for that was not worth the name). And they completely broke their own Extension Engine in an Escape Pod update without meaningful changelogs or instructions to get Extension Engine running again, thus destroying the work of people actually using the Extension Engine.
How pathetic the company’s work on Escape Pod is becomes quite clear if you look at the open source local server “Wire-Pod” that was developed in mere weeks by a single community developer – that is feature complete (including weather and knowledge graph) and works way better than the official Escape pod. How can a single developer create this in his spare time, and a full company is not able to do this in years?
Two final things about Escape Pod: First it was advertised on Kickstarter as a means to keep Vector running if DDL has to file bancruptcy, like Anki did. But: You need an unlock code to tether your robot to Escape Pod and you can get that code only from DDL, if they vanish you will not be able to get your robot onto the official Escape Pod. And second: It may be that the infamous Vector 2.0 at last arrives at customers after they paid for it two years ago, but there is no firmware to tether Vector 2.0 to any Escape Pod. Wasn’t an Escape Pod license part of the Vector 2.0 preorder? If so: where is it? Shouldn’t something like that be available if and when the robot arrives?
- And then there is Vector 2.0: There is no real innovation in that robot, basically it is the same robot Anki released with very minor changes as the battery door and an slightly improved camera. For that you get a maller, lower resolution face display. And aside from that they try to sell you old wine in new skins, because you get the same around five years old robot hard- and software Anki sold. There is no innovation at all in Vector 2.0, it is technologically years behind.
So if we see all this it is no wonder Digital Dream Labs has to resort to copyright trolling other companies that want to release desktop pets and toy robots: They have nothing to show themselves, so they have to resort to prevent competition, because that competition would mop the floor with them. Especially they have nothing to show compared to the work other, also small, companies put into their products and updates.
Of course what they do still is highly unethical and shows all signs of copyright trolling: The try to get other, sccessful, companies to their knees, not for the sake of the customers or the robot community, only because they fear competition, and rightly so, because they have nearly nothing to show of their own.