Bucking the "more is better" trend of digital technology, the US Navy has unveiled an e-reader that’s notable for its lack of features. The Navy e-Reader Device (NeRD) is a Kindle-like electronic book for sailors without networking capabilities like Wi-Fi, or the ability to add or remove anything from its digital library. No, the Navy isn't marching back to the past. It’s part of an effort to provide service personnel with digital format books without breaching security.

A tour aboard a US nuclear submarine may seem like an exciting way to travel the world, but anyone who’s done it can tell you that in many ways it’s like being locked in a sub-basement boiler room for three months without a telephone. Its small wonder that books are so popular among the crew – if you take a peek into one of the drawer-like lockers under the bunks, it’s likely to be crammed with paperbacks.

At least, that was the case until e-readers came along. Since digital formats became practical in the past ten years, they've proven to be extremely popular with sailors serving aboard submarines, but these also have have huge security issues.

A reader with WiFi capability and a memory that can act like a USB flash drive may be very convenient for building a library you can tuck in your pocket, but it’s also a potential hole in the tightest security. Before you can say Charles Dickens, classified information may end up leaked to the press or sold to a foreign power because someone just forgot his Kindle on the bus with that top secret report he’d downloaded to read later, or the reader had been hacked by someone to act as an electronic spy picking files out of the sub’s computers.

Developed by the Navy General Library Program (NLGP) in cooperation with Findaway World as part of the Navy's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program, NeRD is a compromise technology designed to give sailors an e-reader that won’t give Blofeld a leg up. In this case, the NeRd has no cameras, Wi-Fi, accessible data storage, Bluetooth, or anything else that could breach security. Instead, it uses Findaway World’s Lock technology, which places preloaded books on secured devices, to provide Navy personnel with 300 books from the NLGP’s 108,000-volume library with titles ranging from religious texts, to classics like Don Quixote, popular literature, such as Game of Thrones and recommended Navy reading, including SEAL of Honor.

The Navy says that it has 385 NeRDs on order and more to follow. Five of these will be assigned to each of the submarines in the US fleet, so the crew will have to share at first.

"Since we have the digital product available while Sailors are on shore, we wanted to find a way to get digital accessibility while sailors are on ships," says Nilya Carrato, program assistant for the library program. "They can keep 300 books, that would have taken up their entire library locker, in their sailors' pockets now."

Source: US Navy