I get it. The Kindle and its ability to shop for and instantly buy books anywhere using wifi or Whispernet are incredibly convenient, and it’s what’s made Amazon’s hardware the obvious choice for consuming ebooks. But supporting awful companies like Amazon is getting harder and harder if you were born with a conscience, and right about now, an open source ebook reader, free of corporate restrictions, sounds like the perfect Kindle alternative.
The Open Book Project was born from a contest held by Hackaday and Digi-Key that encouraged hardware hackers to find innovative and practical uses for the Arduino-based Adafruit Feather development board ecosystem. The winner of that contest was the Open Book Project which has been designed and engineered from the ground up to be everything devices like the Amazon Kindle or Rakuten Kobo are not. There are no secrets inside the Open Book, no hidden chips designed to track and share your reading habits and preferences with a faceless corporation. With enough know-how, you could theoretically build and program your own Open Book from scratch, but as a result of winning the Take Flight With Feather contest, Digi-Key will be producing a small manufacturing run of the ereader, with pricing and availability still to be revealed.
The raw hardware isn’t as sleek or pretty as devices like the Kindle, but at the same time there’s a certain appeal to the exposed circuit board which features brief descriptions of various components, ports, and connections etched right onto the board itself for those looking to tinker or upgrade the hardware. Users are encouraged to design their own enclosures for the Open Book if they prefer, either through 3D-printed cases made of plastic, or rustic wooden enclosures created using laser cutting machines.
Text will look a little aliased on the Open Book’s E Ink display.
With a resolution of just 400x300 pixels on its monochromatic E Ink display, text on the Open Book won’t look as pretty as it does on the Amazon Kindle Oasis which boasts a resolution of 1,680x1,264 pixels, but it should barely sip power from its built-in lithium-polymer rechargeable battery – a key benefit of using electronic paper.
The open source ereader – powered by an ARM Cortex M4 processor – will also include a headphone jack for listening to audio books, a dedicated flash chip for storing language files with specific character sets, and even a microphone that leverages a TensorFlow-trained AI model to intelligently process voice commands so you can quietly mutter “next!” to turn the page instead of reaching for one of the ereader’s physical buttons like a neanderthal. It can also be upgraded with additional functionality such as Bluetooth or wifi using Adafruit Feather expansion boards, but the most important feature is simply a microSD card slot allowing users to load whatever electronic text and ebook files they want. They won’t have to be limited by what a giant corporation approves for its online book store, or be subject to price-fixing schemes which, for some reason, have still resulted in electronic files costing more than printed books.
What remains to be seen is whether or not the Open Book Project can deliver an ereader that’s significantly cheaper than what Amazon or Rakuten has delivered to consumers. Both of those companies benefit from the economy of scale having sold millions of devices to date, and are able to throw their weight around when it comes to manufacturing costs and sourcing hardware. If the Open Book can be churned out for less than £40, it could potentially provide some solid competition to the limited ereader options currently out there.
All images: Hackaday.io