A small printer that could save lives and make computers more efficient has crashed and killed a man in his 30s.
The tiny Epson Ecotank has been fitted with a battery that can hold more than 400 lumens and can be used to print photos, documents and other digital content at up to 60 per cent brightness.
“This is the first time in a few years that I’ve seen something that was designed to help people print, not just in an academic setting,” said Professor Tim Moore, director of the Engineering Research Centre of Excellence for the Light Source at the University of Exeter.
“We’ve seen it in commercial applications, but this is the very first time a product like this has been designed to save lives.”
Epson, which was developed in collaboration with the University’s Department of Physics, is made up of a lithium ion battery and a carbon fibre head.
It is the smallest commercial printer to have an embedded camera and a microcontroller that allows the printer to work autonomously.
The head was specially designed to allow the printer head to fit inside a small space, such as a cupboard, and has been tested to record images at up of 80 per cent power.
The printer has been built by researchers from the University, the University Hospitals of Birmingham, Exeter and the University College London.
It can print images as large as 12 x 13 cm (4 x 5.5 inches), and it can print photos at up, up to 100 per cent, brightness.
Professor Moore said the design was the first step towards making a more compact, lightweight and low-cost printer.
“It has the potential to make a significant difference to people’s lives, but the problem is that this is a very large, bulky device,” he said.
“I hope this will be a lesson for other manufacturers who are thinking of making a larger, more powerful printer.”
Professor Moore was joined by researchers at the National Research Council and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to show how the small printer could be used in a way that could help people with sight loss, including to make them more efficient with their computers.
The Epson Ectotank is fitted with an embedded sensor to record the colour and brightness of the print.
It works by capturing light that bounces off the material and measuring the amount of energy it takes to bounce it off the print, which could be compared to the energy of sunlight.
Professor Scott Ritter, an electronics engineer at Exeter, said it would be great if the printer could help reduce the number of glasses needed for vision rehabilitation.
“If you have a bad eye, it can be really hard to get a good picture,” he told BBC News.
“With a small, low-powered printer, you can take pictures at up or even above 60 per per cent.”
Professor Ritter said that could be a huge advantage for people with damaged eyesight.
“These devices are incredibly powerful, but it can also be a really significant step in making a better world,” he added.
“You could have a tiny, portable, very low-power printer, but if you had a big, bulky, expensive glasses implant, that would really be a problem.”
Professor Tim Jones, head of the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering at the Department for Education and Skills, said that this could help to save people’s eyesight and give them a new sense of independence.
“A lot of people can’t read the letters on a computer screen, but they can still read and write, and they can do things that normally they couldn’t,” he explained.
“So the epson ECTotank can be a big step forward for people who can’t see at all because of poor eyesight.”
Professor Jones said the idea for a printer that would print at such a low power was originally proposed by researchers in the 1960s.
“People were interested in seeing if they could print the same kind of light that they would see, but with a lower power,” he recalled.
“They were interested because of the energy that would be lost if you could print light at a lower level.”
Epson’s development has been funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of Australia, the Royal Society of the Arts, the UK and the European Union.