Professor builds LEGO robot that strips DRM from Kindle books

Created by Vienna University of Technology professor Peter Purgathofer, this automated DIY Kindle scanner allows the professor to “scan” an entire digital book using a MacBook, standard Amazon Kindle e-Reader and a robotic contraption built from a LEGO Mindstorms kit. Propped up in front the digital camera within the MacBook, the Mindstorms robot first presses the “Next Page” button on the right side of the Kindle device. After about a second, the robotic contraption triggers a lever that pushes the spacebar on the MacBook in order to trigger a photograph with the camera. 

All of these images are collected and processed through am optical character recognition program turning the digital Kindle book into a text file that can be printed out on paper. Purgathofer doesn’t identify the software that he’s using to convert the photos into text, but there are a number of free options available for Mac users. The professor said that he has only tested the concept with one book, but it seems to work perfectly without any human interaction besides starting a book at the first page.

Kindle LEGO DRM Remover

In an interview with AllThingsD, the professor indicated that the robotic setup was designed to bring attention to the limitations of DRM on content like books. Specifically, Purgathofer said “It ended being a reflection on the loss of long-established rights when you buy an e-book. You make a copy of that book, but at eye-level, so that the result is not a stack of paper, but another e-book.” He isn’t interested in sharing more details on the design and setup of the project, specifically because he doesn’t want to get in trouble for encouraging circumventing DRM. 

Purgathofer doesn’t pull any punches within the description on the Vimeo page that hosts the video. Purgathofer states “The DIY kindle scanner is an art installation reflecting this loss of rights Jeff Bezos first defended for us, but then chose to remove. It also is a statement about the futility of DRM.”

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