While the academic and research fueled Fab@Home project might have stepped away from the desktop 3D printer market fray a touch, the machines and their designers have left (and continue to leave!), an indelible mark on the field.
Offering the opportunity to work with a broader range of tools than the other desktop 3D printers, these machines are therefore among the best candidate machines on the market for experimenting in 3D printed food, a research focus for the design team.
Here’s a piece from IEEE Spectrum featuring some fairly recent “food thinking” by core Fab@Home team members Jeffrey Lipton & Hod Lipson from Cornell, as well as a video below featuring a chef who was actively using one of their machines in his kitchen back in 2011:
3-D printers can do more than make plastic parts. At Cornell University, researchers are changing the shape of food, with geometric chocolates and space-shuttle scallops.
You want to bake a special cake for your mom, so you boot up the 3-D printer in your kitchen. Loaded with a dozen cartridges filled with pastes of chocolate, marzipan, and other ingredients, the machine downloads instructions from the Internet. You key in a specific texture, size, and flavor, and then you insert a 3-D message in the center—Happy Birthday, Mom!—to be revealed only after she takes a bite. The machine does the rest, assembling and baking a pastry so scrumptious it rivals a virtuoso chef’s in richness and complexity. Your mother loves it so much that she insists you send a slice of the same cake—in the form of a digital recipe—to your Uncle Norman’s printer as well. Your 3-D cake recipe gets so many raves, in fact, that you decide to sell the recipe online for 99 cents a download.
Science fiction? Hardly. The technology exists, and over the last eight years people have cooked up all sorts of comestibles with it, some a lot stranger than a cake with printing inside.
Let’s start with the printer. Versions of these machines, which follow an electronic blueprint to create 3-D objects out of layers of different material, have been around for nearly three decades. In the late 1980s, they were van-sized behemoths used in industrial settings for prototyping or for producing small batches of aerospace and medical parts. Today’s consumer models, by contrast, are about the size of a microwave oven and may sell for about US $1000. Between then and now, a whole community of do-it-yourselfers has emerged, eager to exploit the amazing capabilities of these versatile gadgets.