As 3D printing steadily gains mainstream popularity, it's not hard to imagine a time in the near future when people come home from work and sit down to a freshly printed meal. While the concept may seem a bit abstract (and maybe a little unappetizing) at the moment, this type of technology is already being used in a number of 3D-printed food operations. Here are five entrepreneurs who create incredible edibles using computer software and some great design concepts.
Luis Rodriguez (pancakes)
Known as the "Digital Cook" on Tumblr, Luis Rodriguez's self-proclaimed "humble goal" is merging food and 3D printing. He designed and created a peristaltic extruder (a pump that allows for precise, measured extrusion of various materials) for his 3D printer that he calls Plyump. On his blog, Rodriguez offers an explanation for his invention:
"I wanted to print things with chocolate. I started looking around for existing options, and thought that none of them fit my needs. I was fool enough to jump into a new design, having no idea what I was about to do. Lots of fun and frustration."
So far, his Creative Commons-licensed design has been used to print some amazing-looking pancakes. You can see a video of Rodriguez's device in action here, along with full instructions for creating your own Plyump.
Anjan Contractor (pizza)
People who follow the latest technology news have probably heard of Anjan Contractor, the Texas-based mechanical engineer hired by NASA to create a 3D printer for pizza. Though Contractor's pizza printer is still in the works, he earned his $125,000 grant by creating a functional device that prints chocolate chips onto cookie dough.
Though it's not quite the same as Earth-made pizza, one of these printed slices will contain all the micro and macro nutrients astronauts need for their long journey into space. Each component — dough, sauce and cheese — will be created out of dehydrated food powder mixed with water and oil. Questionable taste aside, the idea of a machine that prints pizza sounds awesome. Contractor's aspirations to solve world hunger with his device is pretty noble, too.
Brian Begun (chocolate)
More than 20 years of experience in creating visual effects helped artist Brian Begun in his quest to create a better method of chocolate design. Using 3D-printed molds, Begun says his company, Everything's Made of Chocolate, is "stretching the boundaries of what you would normally find shaped in chocolate."
Unlike traditional chocolate-molding techniques, Begun's patent-pending method can perfectly replicate a three-dimensional object without heavy machinery, heat, pressure or chemicals. Another one of the company's selling points is that, because it uses computer scans, the size and details of the finished chocolate mold can easily be altered as well.
Everything's Made of Chocolate is currently crowdfunding to mass-produce its 3D-printed molds and make them available to the public.
David Parker (cookies)
In 2006, cookie lover David Parker founded Parker's Crazy Cookies, a company that produces highly detailed, custom-made cookies for weddings, birthdays and other special events. While these "crazy cookies" aren't truly 3D-printed, Parker's startup had experimented with the technology in the past. The results, he said, were cookies that were too lifelike.
"We used 3D scanners, cameras and software programs for facial recognition to create the molds," Parker told BusinessNewsDaily. "They were so realistic that they creeped people out! Now, we have an artist hand sketch the cookie designs, which we turn into a computer-controlled stamp."
Parker's caricaturelike baked goods start at $2.99 a bag for predesigned cookies and $5.99 a bag for custom cookies.
Avi Reichentall (cakes and candy)
3D Systems is already one of the largest consumer 3D-printing companies. In an article on ComputerWorld, CEO Avi Reichentall shared that his company's machines have already been configured to create ornately designed cakes, candy and other confections. This technology, he said, will bring pastry chefs and bakers a whole range of new capabilities for working with sugar.
Reichentall believes a countertop device for printing sweets at home isn't too far away for consumers.
"We are working on a chocolate printer," he said. "I want a chocolate printer in my kitchen. I want it to be as cool as a Keurig coffeemaker."
For more information on the future of 3D-printed foods, visit our sister site TechNewsDaily.