Interview with Richard Murutar: the making of SprayPrinter, hardware startups in Estonia, and CNC milling of a chocolate cake

For most people, when thinking about spray painting of walls, first thing that comes to mind (probably) is graffiti arts. The SprayPrinter team took the idea behind it and transformed it into a smart-tech solution for decorating your home. When you put a bunch of talented engineers and designers in one place they can come up with the most creative innovations. Check out their Indiegogo campaign for more (currently InDemand).

Meanwhile, we had a chat with their sales engineer Richard Murutar about hardware startups, lessons learned, and what should you try if you visit Estonia.

Richard Murutar: Most important lesson for me was that one does not do anything without a great team

HWTrek: Tell us about your background. What got you into hardware?

We believe that all things happen for a reason. And all of us at SprayPrinter have gone through a lot. For example I have tried and failed with a startup that was introducing the five meter daysailer Cumulus164 to the market (it is a sailboat that can be converted into a motorboat within less than 2 minutes). Among many valuable lessons transferred to Sprayprinter, the most important is that one does not do anything without a great team. When the inventor of SprayPrinter, Mihkel, met me on a small island called Tondisaar the unbelievable synergy started right away. Mihkel is a hardware genius. CNC milling his chocolate birthday cake is just one of the examples. One year later we ran SprayPrinter with the best team and partners you could ever wish for.

The famous CNC milled chocolate birthday cake.

HWTrek: How is the hardware startup scene in Estonia?

When I entered Cumulus164 business in 2011, the number of startups related to hardware was around 10. Today I am glad to see more and more physical products coming up. We have to agree with the prediction of Aleksander Tõnnisson from Buildit Accelerator who said that revolutionary growth is coming in the hardware startup field.
 In Estonia we feel a very supporting startup community behind us. We are here much because of that support.

Richard Murutar: Now SprayPrinter is a product that mixes creativity with complex software algorithms and technology to create a completely unique mechatronic device

HWTrek: How did the idea for Sprayprinter come up?

The idea of SprayPrinter came to our inventor, Mihkel, two years ago when they wanted to paint a picture on a wall, but no reasonable way to do it. Everything was either too complicated, expensive or time-consuming. The problem got him thinking. When pondering about the possible solutions he got the idea of combining the technologies of a Nintendo Wii tracking system and internal combustion engine. After discussing the idea with software and electronics developer Wazombi Labs, it turned out to be doable. Now SprayPrinter is a product that mixes creativity with complex software algorithms and technology to create a completely unique mechatronic device.

SprayPrinter in action on Discovery Channel:

Sprayprinter@Discovery Channel from SprayPrinter on Vimeo.

HWTrek: Tell us more about your prototyping story — what are some of the obstacles you had and how did you overcome them?

The key of SprayPrinter is the tracking system. The first prototype ran on Raspberry Pi and it was pretty easy to make it track the infrared LED light. As it turned out iPhone’s camera doesn’t recognize infrared so the actual SprayPrinter works with visible LED light. Also the communication between a Smartphone and the printer to make it release the valve up to 200 times per second has been full of challenges. The result is that before printing you need to upload the image from our mobile application to the device itself. We also need to mention that we had to find a way to actually predict the hand movement. We solved that with an algorithm that knows 0.2 millisecond before you, where your hand will be.

SprayPrinter: prototyping in action

HWTrek: How did you test your product first? What was the response of the first users?

The first public demo was held in Tartu during a music festival and it was featured on two TV channels. It was basically the first time that the printer didn’t explode during the printing process. Well actually it did, but we got over it. Since then we have gone through many demos with people trying to print themselves and many upgrades have been made with the feedback.
 It has been very interesting to see how people use it differently. We never tell people how to work with Sprayprinter, rather we let them work it out themselves. This gives us valuable information how people want to use it and what features they are using and what they are missing. The device has to be an extension of your hand, it needs to free your hand. not put it into a frame.

SprayPrinter possibilities.

HWTrek: How about manufacturing? Where will you produce your first batch of products?

We are creating industrial design right now. The first batch will be manufactured in Estonia. It’s a necessary step to avoid mistakes when starting to manufacture bigger quantities. Estonia actually has a quite capable manufacturing industry and we are proud of its high quality and prototyping possibilities.

HWTrek: What is something that you wish you had known about being a hardware entrepreneur before getting into it?

There’s a saying that Human is the only animal who can learn from others mistakes. We say it takes all the fun away. Luckily we all had a lot of fun before SprayPrinter. So basically we are pretty much prepared for what is coming next.

HWTrek: What is your advice to new or aspiring hardware entrepreneurs?

Build, measure, learn- cycle. Don’t get stuck in building. Go out and have fun.

HWTrek: What are your ‘go-to’ sources for tech information and news? (Do you have any recommendations for a must-read/watch/listen article, book, blog, film, or podcast, etc.?

Be where others like you are. Attend events, talk to people, and don’t forget to follow up.


Fun questions:

HWTrek: Which Back to the Future gadget would you most like to have?

The automated dog feeding device in Doc’s home.

HWTrek: When you’re low on creative juice, what is your #1 method to get back on track?

We all have our ways. I think the best way is to leave the office, have a party, and continue the next day.

HWTrek: If anyone was visiting Estonia, what food should they try?

It has gained a lot of popularity to brew good beer at home. We, Estonians, do it too and we are proud of the result. You should give it a try.


Originally published at blog.hwtrek.com on February 22, 2016.

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