Camera Creates Instant Images with Thermal Paper
Tom Spendlove posted on July 24, 2019 |

Sarah Wang, Christina Daniels, and David Van Dyke are engineers with a passion for photography. They started a camera project in May and developed prototypes for a system that prints pictures on thermal paper. The group is now running a Kickstarter funding campaign for the Alulu Receipt Camera, an instant film camera that prints on receipts.

The first thing I learned while researching this project is that the traditional thermal paper used to print receipts is not recyclable. An article from Wasteland Rebel says the Bisphenol A that coats receipts is the issue, and that even burning receipts can release the BPA into the air. Receipts coated in BPA will contaminate other recycled paper in a system and composting might release the chemical into surface waters. Shia from Wasteland Rebel says that lab tests are required to know whether or not a receipt is coated in Bisphenol A, and her wise decision is for all of us to go digital with our receipts. One statistic cited by Recyclebank says that 94 percent of receipts from a study were treated with the chemical and receipts from the United States and Canada push 33.5 tons of the chemical into the environment every year. The Sierra Club said in 2017 that throwing all of our receipts into the trash is the best option, but because receipts are only a small fraction of all paper consumed they say that the direct refuse is “not the gravest of sins” against sustainable living.

Alulu can print on unused rolls of thermal paper or on actual receipts. The camera takes the subject and translates it to a grey-scale image and a printer head heats the paper. The team calls this a lo-fi stippled instant film photograph. Four different lighting settings can be used with the camera – sunny, cloudy, indoor, and flash. A self timer and acrylic viewfinder frame are additional features, and the camera charges itself through microUSB. Several examples of the pictures taken with Alulu are on the campaign page and the company’s website, and the heat to print function of the camera allows for double exposures and different effects.

The novelty of the Alulu camera for me is the ability to get instant physical photographs without worrying about the expense of instant camera paper. This campaign needs more technical details, I’d love to know what controller the system is using and the rough dimensions and weight of the camera. The page says that the complex design required several manufacturing lines in the original design plan, and I would guess that doing a full design for manufacture study could reduce complexity of the system. The comment section is fairly busy and some backers have asked for a kit so that users can build their own customizable cameras. It’s promising for me to see that the engineers are confident enough in the core technology that they can take the 3 inch receipt paper idea and scale up to 8 x 10 inch size. The campaign has not yet met its funding goal and ends on August 15, 2019.

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