The next big thing in technology, according to the technophiles, is 3D printing. The ability to design something in a computer and have a machine print it out has already reached the personal level, with 3D printers that print in plastic being utilized by hobbyists. But NASA may have upped the game entirely, as it was revealed that the agency has funded research towards a 3D printer that prints food.
The apparent use of such a device would be for a long distance manned space mission, such as a manned trip to Mars. But the technology could have other applications on Earth as well.
NASA issued a $125,000 grant to Texas-based Systems and Material Research Corp. (SMRC) for the project. The exact details of the project are to create "nutritious and flavorful" food that will be suitable for astronauts, according to the projects proposal. The initial product will focus on pizza.
Pizza was chosen due to its simple structure. It naturally comes in layers, so it would be easier to write a design file, called a "digital recipe" by SMRC. There are several layers to be printed, first a sheet of dough, then a layer of tomato sauce. A "protein layer" is then printed, which could come from milk, plants, or animals.
All of the ingredients will be stored in a powdered form and combined with water and oil only at the moment when food is printed. This would save weight and space, according to the SMRC.
SMRC has already built a proof of concept with a printer that prints chocolate from powdered ingredients and water. A video of that device can be seen below:
Keep in mind going from a single use printer to the proposed pizza printer is a tremendous step up in complexity, but the fact that a proof of concept exists is definitely good news as to the feasibility of the pizza printer.
Anjan Contractor, a senior mechanical engineer at SMRC, is not afraid to think big, seeing his potential invention as something could help in battling global hunger. Although the idea of eating food synthesized from powered ingredients may be distasteful to some, Contractor is bullish on the idea. He told Quartz in an interview that "I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently. So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food."
The powders that Contractor envisions would be shelf stable for 30 years, eliminating nearly all food waste. People would be able to print out customized, nutritionally appropriate meals on demand one layer at a time.
Of course, this all does nothing unless the actually device is developed beyond proof of concept. But as 3D printing grows more and more into the mainstream, we may start seeing things such as food or other objects utilize the technology in unexpected ways.