Pocket Printer secures Kickstarter cash

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

Image source, Zuta Labs
Image caption, Zuta Labs says its robot will move around a page, printing as it goes

An Israeli start-up plans to release a printer early next year that is small enough to fit inside its owner's pocket but works with any-sized paper.

Zuta Labs is proceeding with the project after raising over $435,000 (£260,000) via a crowdfunding site.

Rather than feeding paper through a machine, the project fits an ink cartridge to a small robot that crawls over a document to create it.

However, its relatively slow speed may limit its appeal.

The current prototype can only print about one page per minute in greyscale and offers a significantly lower resolution than traditional desktop inkjets.

But the Jerusalem-based engineers said they hoped to make improvements before the first devices shipped to backers of the Kickstarter campaign in January.

Image source, Zuta Labs
Image caption, The current prototype uses a black ink Hewlett-Packard cartridge

"We can now order smaller and stronger engines to make it move faster," Tuvia Elbaum, the firm's chief marketing officer, told the BBC.

"The resolution is very low because we are using an old cartridge, but we are talking to several manufacturers to use smarter and newer versions of smaller cartridges."

Print and run

The Pocket Printer features several wheels in its base to let it turn and drive in different directions. The team says the final product will be controlled by a PC or smartphone via Bluetooth, but the current prototype still needs a wired connection.

The engineers plan to cover the internal mechanism with a smooth tear-shaped plastic skin, and said the device would be 10cm (3.9in) tall, 11.5cm (4.5in) wide, and weigh 300g (0.7lb).

"It's for someone who wants to print one, two or three pages on the go," added Mr Elbaum.

"A memo, a small contract, notes or even an e-ticket before a flight.

"Way further along the roadmap we want a colour version and we want it to print on different surfaces - people have asked for tiles, T-shirts and walls, which would require different types of ink."

He added that it was likely to cost $240 (£140) when it went on sale to the public in 2015.

Education opportunity

Image source, Valiant
Image caption, The Valiant Turtle, launched in 1983, was one of the first robot printers

One observer suggested the firm should rethink its business strategy, bearing in mind other manufacturers already offered portable colour printers at lower prices, albeit ones that were more bulky and limited to certain paper sizes.

"I personally can't see an effective use case that you would have above and beyond what is already available - boarding passes and stuff like that are moving to the phone," said Stuart Miles, founder of gadget review site Pocket-lint.

Image source, Economatics
Image caption, Economatics's BBC Buggy could be fitted with a pen to create drawings

"It reminds me of the turtle printers that were around for BBC Micro computers all those year ago, which you would program and off they'd go - and I think it would have more sense to target it at an education market."

Jason Fitzpatrick, director of the UK's Centre for Computing History, agreed with this analysis adding that schools were actively seeking modern equivalents to the Valiant Turtle and BBC Buggy to help them teach children how to use Raspberry Pi computers.

"When you can do a bit of programming and make it control something in the real world, everything sort of opens up," he said.

"Having another device that you could mess about with would be great.

"But you can already buy small printers that print things like business cards and labels, and there are other alternatives out there that fulfil mobile users' needs."

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