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In December 2013, The Serval Project commenced a second round of work for the OpenITP (Internet Tools Project) to release software images for the Serval Mesh Extender device and the Serval Mesh app for Android by the end of March 2014.
From the grant proposal:
Specifically, we [The Serval Project are requesting OpenITP's support in completing work unit 3, that together with an existing grant under consideration by the NLnet Foundation, and existing work that are have [sic] currently resourced, will allow us to complete stages 1 and 2, and thus release an easy to use and effective Mesh Extender software image, and an integrated version of the Serval Mesh Android application. This will allow the general public to form their own mesh telephony networks over interesting distances using our open-source software.
The work was completed in November 2014, six months later than the contracted date of April 30, 2014. The delay was due to staff absences, more-than-expected technical hitches in the Mesh Extender firmware installation process, and demands of other tasks such as preparation of grant submissions to sustain the Project financially and completion of the following contracts:
During December 2014 and January 2015, three pairs of Mesh Extender units were tested and shipped in working condition to the “Bleeding Edge” supporters of the Speak Freely crowdfunding campaign.
The following work items were performed to satisfy the contract:
The following work items were performed to demonstrate fulfilment:
The “Peer List” screen (activity) of the Serval Mesh app for Android was unresponsive and sometimes failed to update, which made it difficult for users to spot the presence of Mesh Extender access points.
From January to March 2014, we changed the “Peer List” activity's back-end interface with Serval DNA. Instead of synchronous (blocking) calls through the JNI interface, a new, asynchronous Java API was developed for MDP network client processes, and the connect activity was altered to send and receive Distributed Numbering Architechure (DNA) queries and replies without blocking.
We used this opportunity to improve the software architecture by adding a Java API layer to the Serval DNA component itself so that other applications can easily embed it and communicate with it, independently of the Serval Mesh application. This had the immediate advantage of bringing the new Java API code under the scope of the Serval DNA testing framework. New test cases were written to specify the semantics and contracts of the new Java API and to prevent regressions. The existing Java code in the Serval Mesh application for communicating with Serval DNA was replaced by the new Java API, which effectively increased the test coverage of the Serval Mesh app for Android.
The “Connect” screen (activity) of the Serval Mesh app for Android was designed for experts, and was not very usable.
In order to make it easy for users to connect to Mesh Extenders, we redesigned and simplified the “Connect” activity:
Pressing the “Ad Hoc Mesh” label the first time initiates the process of probing for Ad Hoc capability, and pops up the HERE BE DRAGONS! warning. If the user chooses to Test, then the Serval Mesh application will attempt to use Super-User privilege to re-install the system Wi-Fi driver, which will pop up a dialog asking if the user will grant Super User privilege to Serval Mesh. By relegating these scary warnings and pop-ups behind the “Ad Hoc Mesh” button, we were able to remove them from the app's first-time start wizard, which was a significant obstacle to adoption.
The new “Connect” screen is much simpler than its predecessor, yet still requires more usability work. Users still need to know that they have to connect to mesh.servalproject.org in order to connect to a Mesh Extender. However, the design of the new “Connect” screen was directed towards eventually adding an extra row labelled “Mesh Extender”, which would be greyed out (unavailable) unless one or more Mesh Extender access points were within range. Checking the “Mesh Extender” option would automatically enable Wi-Fi and associate to the mesh.servalproject.org access point. We did not implement this because there are usability and implementation issues yet to be resolved, such as:
From July to November 2014, scripts and documentation for installing the Mesh Extender firmware on an TP-LINK MR2030 from scratch were developed and committed to the new Mesh Extender Builder GitHub repository. This work was complicated by several technical issues: