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Payments startup LevelUp taps MakerBot to build a sleeker way to pay with your phone

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levelup reader
levelup reader

Today, payments startup LevelUp announced the availability of a sleek new tool: a newly-refined version of its mobile phone scanner, which can simply take a picture of your screen to initiate a money transfer. The device will debut at the SXSW Interactive conference this week in Austin, TX. All of the conference's 40 concession stands will play host to LevelUp's devices, which the company designed using a $2,000 MakerBot in its own office. LevelUp estimates that the process saved LevelUp $30,000 in prototyping fees and weeks of back-and-forth with factories in China.

"We're a software company so we can just update code and push it to servers," LevelUp founder Seth Priebatsch says, "but hardware obviously doesn't work like that. [Using MakerBot to prototype] brings us even closer to that software product cycle." LevelUp's new devices are essentially webcams built to scan QR codes generated by the LevelUp mobile app. Users pair a credit card with the app, which is charged any time you scan your phone at a shop, bar, or restaurant. It works just like Starbucks' mobile app at checkout, which helped popularize scan-and-charge payments as a simple alternative to NFC payments.

MakerBot saved LevelUp $30,000 in prototyping fees

As with any Starbucks red-laser scanner, LevelUp requires something to power it, like a tablet or old point-of-sale cashier machine. Fortunately, the scanners plugs into most old machines — even the Micros 3700s the Austin Convention Center uses — but LevelUp will loan you an Android tablet if you need one.

While LevelUp might sound like Square, it's actually a lot more like Square Wallet, an app that lets you pay wirelessly but is still in its infancy. While Square is still focused mostly on helping merchants accept credit cards, LevelUp's new scanner furthers the company's hopes to remove plastic from the equation entirely.