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image Misbehave on an airliner in the future, and the pilot just might zap you with a nasty shock from the bracelet you’re forced to wear. Don’t laugh. The patent for such a system already exists.

DRM-friendly E Ink machines aren’t quite that bad, but metaphorically don’t you feel as though you or your “protected” books are wearing such a bracelet? Wouldn’t it be great if your E Ink gizmo ran with an alternative operating system and maybe even let you choose your own e-readerware, such as the .epub-compatible FBReader? And how about the possibility of WiFi via an SD card slot, at least on some machines? Couple that with recent efforts to iPod-ize the downloading of public domain books and other nonDRMed titles—make things toaster-simple—and you can imagine the possibilities. Oh, and for good measure, how about a way for your machine to accept text-input, assuming it doesn’t already? Or maybe run a Web browser optimized for E Ink, even if it’s no speed champ? Would be handy for downloads, eh?

OpenInkpot—looking for volunteers and ideas

With the above in mind, I’ll enthusiastically share an e-mail from Yoav Felberbaum of OpenInkpot—while urging qualified volunteers to pitch in, and reminding vendors that the open approach just might lead to some free and incredible R&D, in effect:

“We are delighted to have been accepted into Google Summer of Code, and even more so when you consider that OpenInkpot was founded only three months ago!

“OpenInkpot was founded in order to create a free alternative to the often proprietary and closed operating systems present on the various e-ink devices out there. In the short period that OpenInkpot has been active, there has been remarkably rapid progress with the Jinke Hanlin/lBook V3 hardware—to the point where we already have our own firmware booting on the V3. But we still have a lot ahead of us!

“We are always in need of more people and ideas, and Google Summer of Code offers us, and you, a perfect opportunity to be part of the future of reading!

“We welcome students to assist us in furthering the development of a free operating system for e-ink devices.

“…Below is a brief summary of what you could do for us!

    * Port OpenInkpot to another e-ink device
    * Add wi-fi capability to e-ink devices (via a SD wi-fi card)
    * Add text-input capability to e-ink devices.
    * Your idea here! We are open to any new and/or innovative ideas you come up with!”

For the convenience of folks reading the TeleBlog on RSS, I’ll reproduce group’s current Web page:

GSoC 2008 Ideas

Note: you will probably need to have access to actual e-ink device to do the most of the tasks, as it is very hard to test software for the hardware with e-ink and reduced keyboard on the PC. If you’re brave enough, you might want to develop on PC, anyway.

Porting OpenInkpot (medium [difficulty])

Intended audience: Linux kernel hackers

There are several models of e-ink devices below. Ports of OpenInkpot to these devices could be considered:

  • Bookeen Cybook Gen3
  • Amazon Kindle
  • iRex iLiad
  • Sony PRS-505
  • Hanlin V2

Port should be integrated in the main build system.

e-ink devices emulator (easy)

Intended audience: X11/C developers

It would be very helpful to have accurate devices emulator with realistic screen emulation (refreshing parts of screen) and input devices (buttons).

This involves:

  • fixing grayscale handling in Xephyr
  • adding “e-ink like” scren update in Xephyr
  • Adding bunch of skins/buttons to Xoo

Be aware that first two points may involve forking Xephyr as current maintainer is not very cooperative.

SDIO wifi support

Intended audience: Linux kernel hackers

V3 hardware supports SDIO cards. This task involves adapting existing OpenMoko? kernel drivers for SDIO wifi cards and making the V3 wifi-capable. Also, support for unencrypted/WEP/WPA access points could be attempted.

SDIO wifi GUI

Intended audience: X11/C developers

SDIO wifi support will probably require additional GUI components. This task involves creating a GUI for wifi configuration keeping in mind the limitations of an e-ink device/display, such as slow screen refresh rate and reduced text input capabilities.

Document viewer

Intended audience: X11/C developers, usability experts, typographical experts

We need GREAT document viewer: extensible, adapted to v3 screen and input mechanisms – fast and beautiful. FBreader, libdjvulibre and poppler are good starting points.

Speaking dictionary

Intended audience: X11/C developers, kernel hackers

Interesting application which may be run on V3 is the dictionary which can be used to play pronunciation of selected words.

This includes writing from scratch, a driver for the mp3 decoder chip used in the V3, as well as create a X11/Enlightenment application adapted for e-ink screen and reduced text input capabilities.

Text entry methods

Intended audience: X11/C developers

lBook/Hanlin V3 is quite limited regarding the input devices (16 keys, not counting “Power” and “Reset” buttons).

It would be nice to implement some smart method of entering text into it, having in mind that the screen refresh is quite slow on e-ink and hence animated/changing on-screen keyboards would be difficult to use, if not done carefully:

  • Chord keyboard + on-screen help (pressing two or more keys to get the character)
  • Some variant of MobileQWERTY + on-screen help
  • Another type of text input.

Browser

Intended audience: X11/C developers

A browser application would be a good addition to the book reading software. However existing browsers will need to be adapted to the e-ink screen.

This task consists of adapting Embedded Konqueror to Enlightenment environment, e-ink slow refresh rate, reduced text input capabilities of V3.

Printing to the e-ink device

Intended audience: C developers, device driver developers

An e-ink device could be thought of as a very versatile sheet of paper. As a result, a user should be theoretically be able to simply “print” whatever’s on his screen to an USB-attached V3, and have it appear as a file.

Ideally, the (postscript?) printer driver would have the display dimensions stored, as well as a dithering algorithm – in order to obtain the best-looking results. This should output to something like a dvi – you would need to port something like xdvi to the V3.

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David again: Yes, I’m aware—FBReader already has been ported to iRex Technologies’ iLiad. But how about other E Ink machines? Not to mention more choices for the iLiad.

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