Pocket-sized printers and the portable office of the future

From tiny robotic office appliances to wearables and virtual reality, the workplace of the future could be recognizably high-tech.

By on October 20, 2015

Whether it's at home or in a corporate setting, your office probably features at least one traditional inkjet or laser printer. But that particular appliance could soon find itself out on the street, thanks to a clever new gadget. Meet the ZUtA Labs Pocket Printer, a small-but-powerful device tiny enough to hold in the palm of your hand, but boasting much of the power of a traditional printer and more. The Pocket Printer, which was a hit at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, is now available to consumers. The gadget connects to mobile devices through Wi-Fi, can print for an hour on one battery charge and is not limited to standard paper sizes. To use the Pocket Printer, just align it with the top left corner of your page, coordinate with the app on your device, and the device will zoom back and forth across the page, printing each page in about a minute. The Pocket Printer is a little robot that lets you bring printing anywhere, and is just one aspect of a larger trend toward the much more mobile and portable office of the future.

"The ZuTA pocket printer clearly has incredible technology by shrinking the form down to the printhead on small wheels that runs along a piece of paper," says Scott Amyx, CEO of Amyx+McKinsey, a wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) strategy and development agency. "I would, however, argue that the pace of innovation will soon make paper printers nearly obsolete." Amyx thinks the future of the portable office lies more in innovations like virtual and augmented reality. "The future is virtual. No need to print, even legal documents. You can have a document as large as you'd like via virtual reality glasses," he says.

Futurist and author Gray Scott agrees that virtual and augmented reality will play a big role in our future work lives. "The office of the future will be more than mobile. It will be wearable," Scott says. "As we increase the amount of wireless coverage around the world and as wearable tech becomes more ubiquitous, the office of the future will be a part of your smartphone as well as your clothing," he adds. As for pocket-sized printers, Scott takes them a step further. "Your phone can already scan and send documents. However, imagine if your wearable computer suit of the future could also scan, print and send information without any need to plug into a traditional office of the past," he says.

Scott envisions an "always-on" (or always-accessible) work style. "Biometrics, haptic (touch-based) technologies and smaller and cheaper computer chips will enable us to take our offices with us in the near future. Not in a briefcase but built into our clothing," Scott says. "We will also see VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) projectors in our smartphones and smart wearable computers. Taking a conference call in virtual or augmented reality while you hike through the woods on vacation will be normal," he predicts.

Amyx thinks these radical innovations are nearly ready to begin entering the office space. "We have seen significant progress in augmented reality/virtual reality. AR/VR such as Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens are already revolutionizing gaming, film, entertainment, live sports, hands-free medical procedures and service work, but the real potential in this area lies in the complete overhaul of the workplace," Amyx says.

It turns out that the portable office of the future could have little in common with the physical offices we're used to, and may more closely resemble, well, our regular lives and free time. "White-collar workers will no longer be chained to their desks in order to be productive. They will not need tables, white boards, or conference rooms," says Amyx. "Through AR/VR, tomorrow’s creative workforce will be able to perform all their computer tasks virtually in thin air, anywhere, anytime with anybody."

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