The future of portable printing is rolling slowly across a piece of A4 paper on a hot Thursday afternoon in Jerusalem's early summer. After what seems like an eternity compared to an inkjet device, the prototype creates seven characters with two spaces; the end result looks like it was spit out of an aging dot matrix printer.
"It's slow," Tuvia Elbaum, co-founder of Zuta Labs, says for about the third time after the printer finishes its work. And while it may be slow now, the idea driving this start-up is nonetheless engaging.
The Zuta Pocket Printer is not your typical boxy tabletop inkjet or even a miniaturized version of one. It's a robot that's a little smaller than a CD case, with four wheels and a printer cartridge currently tethered to an Arduino board.
How it works
Instead of feeding paper through a stationary device with a moving cartridge, the robot distributes ink by roving across the page on two sets of bi-directional wheels. It's literally an out-of-the box solution for anyone that needs to print an insurance form or a term paper while waiting for their latte at Starbucks. Fresh off a successful Kickstarter campaign in May, Zuta Labs is now working on creating a faster, smaller device with higher quality output.
The final version of the printer will be cut down in size by roughly a third. It will be tear drop-shaped, untethered, offer one hour of full usage on a single charge, and able to churn out an A4 page of grayscale text or images in 45 seconds.
At least that's the goal. The prototype I saw wasn't anywhere near that fast. Compared to the speeds with which a modern inkjet can produce whole pages, the prototype's pace was lethargic. That's not to say the benchmark of 45 seconds per page is stunning considering my ho-hum Canon MX340 can deliver plain text pages nearly five times faster than that. Yet even if the company can create a product that prints a page in less than a minute, it will appeal.
The goal of Zuta Labs isn't necessarily to replace traditional printers, but to supplement them with a device that you can stash in your bag and print off several pages in a few minutes — no matter where you are. "If you were to print 20 pieces of paper, I wouldn't recommend using this. You could, but it'd be a hassle." Elbaum said during an interview at the company's offices in Hebrew University's High Tech Village, a set of converted dormitories housing a number of Jerusalem-based start-ups. "It's meant for printing two to four pieces of paper on the go."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.