Food From Space: NASA’s 3-D Pizza Printer (Cont’d)

3DpizzaLast Spring, NASA made headlines when it announced that its was granting a developer $125,000 to build a prototype 3-D food printer that would be able to create pizzas and other tasty food items. This is part of NASA’s larger effort to bring 3-D printing into space so that astronauts could meet their nutritional and supply needs on site.

And according to this most recent video, courtesy of Anjan Contractor, it seems that the project had begun to bear fruit. Contractor is the lead engineer behind the printer design, and was employed by NASA’s Systems & Materials Research Corporation to complete a printer that could provide astronauts a nutritious, comforting alternative to the canned and freeze-dried prepackaged foods they’re currently stuck with.

3-D_pizzaAs you can see from the video, the machine does a pretty good job of creating a rectangular, margherita pizza – albeit with some minor spillage. And, according to Contractor, the device takes about 70 seconds to cook the pizza after the printer nozzles were finished laying down the liquid crust-precursor, followed by the tomato sauce and liquid cheese.

If NASA decides it wants to move ahead with the printer, it will still be many, many years before astronauts are eating 3-D printed pizza and other such delectables in space. But this proof of concept is a major step in that direction, and NASA is likely to see its project through to completion before attempting any long-range missions (such as to Mars).

After all, astronauts being in space for extended periods of time is the very reason alternatives are being contemplated in the first place. And in the meantime, check out this video of Contractor’s printer as it generates a pizza:


The Future is Here: 3-D Printed Candy

chefjet_candyRemember the Easy Bake Oven, that little toy appliance that came equipped with an especially hot light-bulb and allowed kids to bake (a limited array of) edible goods? Well, it just may be that 3-D food printers will give the children of tomorrow that same ability, except with a much wider array of options; not to mention little risk of burning themselves.

Already, pizza, pancakes, and desserts are all options for food printers, and even Google’s cafeteria has a 3-D printer for pasta. And at this years Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2014), 3D Systems unveiled two of their latest designs – the ChefJet and the ChefJet Pro – showcasing printers that use sugar and water to crystallize frosting in real time.

chefjet-sugar-2-hires3D Systems is no stranger to printer technology. At last years CES, they won Best Emerging Tech award for their Cubify printer – a low cost device geared towards kids, artists, and other consumers inexperienced with the technology. And though the reviews coming out of CES are mixed on the nature of the flavor, the colors and shapes it can render into candy form are quite impressive.

The ChefJet only prints sugar or chocolate-colored confections while the Pro takes it up a notch with an inkjet filled with food coloring allowing for a plethora of colorful, and edible, results. These range from spirals and squares to 3-D pentagons and spheres, to incredibly elaborate designs that resemble chorals or casings for cakes. And of course, the candy can come in the form of pure sugar, or as white or dark chocolate.

chef-jet-pro1Other developments in the 3-D printing of food – such as NASA’s research on printing food in space (including pizza!), or printing food with personalized nutritional content – aren’t yet fully formed. ChefJet could be a little easier to integrate into small industries right away, since it has the ability to tailor make frosting in shapes that could easily be added to high-end desserts (like wedding cakes).

Even more exciting is the potential for home applications. Parents could rent a ChefJet Pro for a kids’ birthday party to create cakes or candy in the shape of their child’s favorite characters, or let children customize the Halloween candy that they would hand out. And just like the Easy Bake Oven of old, the result may not be totally tasty, but the process is still fun and gives people a chance to be creative.

The ChefJet and ChefJet Pro will likely be available in the second half of 2014, for an estimated $5,000 and $10,000 apiece. And while you’re waiting on one to become commercially available (and affordable), check out this video of the ChefJet in action at CES 2014: