US Navy's NeRD keeps reading under the radar


May 13, 2014

NeRD is a compromise technology designed to give sailors an e-reader that won’t give Blofeld a leg up (Photo: US Navy )

NeRD is a compromise technology designed to give sailors an e-reader that won’t give Blofeld a leg up (Photo: US Navy )

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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

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

I think that is an excellent idea. It mean they will have more choices yet won't be a security risk. It also means they can use the space normally used to store paperbacks to store other things.

The downside would be the name; NeRD? How many sailors would want a device with that name? Perhaps they could overcome the name when they realize how many books they could read with that device?


So they are proud to have spent money on developing an inferior device in order to prevent sailors (that are handling billion USD equipment) from doing something stupid. Sounds like a waste of government money.


@Skipjack - You obviously haven't spent time with the 19 year old sailors that are driving these machines or read the news about Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning.


The name NeRD was obviously not an accident & will appeal to the 99% of submariners with a sense of humor. If the device is successful, this will spread to other situations in the services where bulk & security are issues, such as tank crews.


Quite handy for regular sailors who want to keep their charts tables and favorite books in one neat and tidy corruption-proof (and hopefully thoroughly waterproof) package.


Navy's idea of "Breach Security" is everyone-else's idea of blowing-the-whistle on governments' violating the constitution.

This is nothing but a disgusting way to prevent concerned workers from ratting out immoral and illegal activities they're compelled to participate in.


@ Skipjack - The device is only inferior if it doesn't perform its required function in the environment that it was meant to perform in.


Baen should offer their entire ebook library for it. Much of their catalog is military SciFi themed.

Gregg Eshelman

Five??? For the sake of discussion say a crew of 115. How can they expect them to give up their personal readers with so few alternative readers available?

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