Now comes a 3D food printer that can fabricate edible items through computer-guided software and the actual cooking of edible pastes, gels, powders and liquid ingredients - all in a prototype that looks like an elegant coffee machine.
The printer is the result of a design project devised by Hod Lipson - pioneering roboticist who works in the areas of artificial intelligence and digital manufacturing at Columbia University - and his students.
‘A new 3D food printer can fabricate edible items through computer-guided software and the actual cooking of edible pastes, gels, powders and liquid ingredients.’
"Food printers are not meant to replace conventional cooking as they won't solve all of our nutritional needs nor cook everything we should eat," said Lipson.
But they will produce an infinite variety of customized fresh, nutritional foods on demand, transforming digital recipes and basic ingredients supplied in frozen cartridges into healthy dishes that can supplement our daily intake.
"I think this is the missing link that will bring the benefits of personalized data-driven health to our kitchen tables - it's the 'killer app' of 3D printing," Lipson added.
The printer is the result of a design project Lipson done with Drim Stokhuijzen from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Jerson Mezquita from State University of New York System's (SUNY) Maritime College.
The major challenge is getting the printer to "cook" the food.
The printer is fitted out with a robotic arm that holds eight slots for frozen food cartridges. The students are now working on incorporating an infrared heating element into the arm.
Unlike conventional oven cooking, the 3D printer will be able to cook various ingredients at different temperatures and different durations, all controlled by a new software.
Lipson and his team aim to have their prototype printing much faster and more accurately by the end of the year, and, they hope, cooking as it prints too.
"If we can leverage this technology to allow artificial intelligence tools to design and create new things for us, we can achieve immeasurable potential," Lipson noted in a university statement.
3D food printing offers revolutionary new options for convenience and customization, from controlling nutrition to managing dietary needs to saving energy and transport costs to creating new and novel food items, the authors said.