While all replicators are still in the Alpha Quadrant, two MIT students decided they won't wait for Captain Janeway: they made a food printer here on Earth.
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While digital media has transformed our society, the basic technologies we are using in the kitchen are only small improvements to the tools we have been using for hundreds of years. In order to bring cooking technologies to the digital age, Marcelo Coelho and Amit Zoran have developed concepts that are true beginning of the revolution in the kitchen.
Here is what Coelho and Zoran have in mind: Each one of their machines addresses a fundamental process of cooking: the mixing of ingredients, the physical and chemical transformation of these ingredients into new compounds, and their modelling into aesthetically pleasing and delicious textures and shapes.
The Digital Fabricator is a personal, three-dimensional printer for food, which works by storing, precisely mixing, depositing and cooking layers of ingredients. Its cooking process starts with an array of food canisters, which refrigerate and store user's favourite ingredients. These are piped into a mixer and extruder head that can accurately deposit elaborate food combinations with sub-millimetre precision.
While the deposition takes place, the food is heated or cooled by the Fabricator’s chamber or the heating and cooling tubes located on the printing head. This fabrication process allows creation of flavours and textures that would be completely unimaginable through other cooking techniques.
The Robotic Chef is a mechanical arm designed to physically and chemically transform a single solid food object, such as a steak, fish or a fruit. It allows for two types of transformations: localized and precise manipulations performed with an array of tools located in the tool head; and global transformations performed through the underlying bed and two 5-degree of freedom robotic arms. The Chef allow cooks to exert highly localized and repeatable food manipulations that would be impossible to achieve through traditional cooking methods.
The Virtuoso Mixer is a machine composed of a three-layer rotating carousel that provides cooks with an efficient way to mix multiple ingredient variations and experiment with subtle differences in taste and composition. There are eight containers that can be filled with off-the-shelf ingredients, weight scales, and temperature and humidity sensors.
The ingredients can be combined in precisely controlled amounts which allows chefs to quickly produce and taste several ingredient combinations. The final digital recipes can eventually be saved, shared with other machines or users, or be simply retrieved by the same machine for the future preparation of a meal.
While good old cooking will never disappear, those concepts have bright future and without doubts they will find their place in many homes. ■