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Mon, 7 Feb '11

Downloading Dinner – The 3-D Food Printer

Dine on demand with a little help from your computer.

"Tea. Earl Gray. Hot." Few of us can order up food or beverages as compellingly as Captain Picard – and we refer not just to his authoritative English accent, but also the way in which his order is instantly prepared by machine as if out of thin air.

While a gadget like Star Trek's replicator would be nice to have (especially on snow days in college), spontaneous molecular food creation is probably not in our immediate future. But the new 3-D Food Printer being developed at Cornell University’s Computational Synthesis Laboratory may soon allow you to literally download the perfect cup of tea (or an outstandingly gooey nacho sauce, we hope).

Basically, imagine a device that functions like a printer. However, instead of ink cartridges, you insert fresh ingredients. The machine processes the foodstuffs into nutritious goop and prints out food in three dimensions, using downloaded recipes. It’s not quite the Star Trek technology of drawing molecules from the air and reshaping them, but it’s still cool. We envision the first-gen tech in this field will allow you to make custom-molded cookies, breads, or cupcakes that cook in wacked out shapes.

Current proofs of concept include flourishes like letters baked inside cakes, and little edible space shuttles. Unfortunately for would-be Picards, Cornell has yet to come up with a machine that prints realistic hairpieces. That'll probably come in this culinary technology's, y'know...Next Generation.

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