The future isn’t coming, people. That’s because it’s already here. On-demand everything, pocket-sized devices with the collective intelligence of the world stored inside, Dippin’ Dots: we’re not dreaming of what the future is going to be anymore. We’re just trying to figure out how to live in it. No example better symbolizes our futuristic world than the rise of 3D printing.
3D printing is like a direct portal from brains to reality. Imagine a new toy for your kid, then design it on your iPhone, and print it out — all within a miniscule fraction of the time it would have taken to prototype something the conventional way. It’s amazing what 3D printing is going to do to the world, but it gets even more amazing when you realize what 3D printing is going to do to food.
Food Printers aren’t completely new. Homaru Cantu at Moto in Chicago has been printing out edible menus using edible ink for years now. He hasn’t been printing 3D food, though. That’s what some Indian students (who call themselves “The Ninjas”) are doing. They study in the Department of Design at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati and their project for the OzCHI24 annual international student design competition could revolutionize the Fly&Dine world. Basically, they want to 3D print food in-flight.
They’re calling it The Sky Kitchen and they’re addressing the number one complaint about airline food: that it’s not freshly made. Instead of the traditional system of off-site catering companies preparing meals and loading them onto planes, The Sky Kitchen aims to have 3D printers that can print various kinds of food into whatever shape you’d like. Want a triangle waffle? It can do that. Want pizza with blueberries? It can do that, too. It can do pretty much whatever you want it to do, so if pancakes in the shape of a Christmas tree are what your heart desires, you can have them. Pretty cool, eh?
Overall, this sounds like a great concept, but I fear that it will remain just that: a concept. The practicality of air travel makes a system like this nearly impossible unless the entire flight service program is overhauled and flight attendants are replaced by automated delivery bots. There just wouldn’t be enough time and labor available to make orders in the printer and deliver them to travelers. You would need at least ten of these machines on-board to print the food and then at least one employee dedicated to making sure the customers got their order and keeping the printers functional. As of right now, this plan isn’t feasible.
In the future, though, who knows what air travel will look like? Maybe 3D food printers will be introduced as a novelty at first. Similar to those Coke Freestyle machines where people line up to make crazy soda creations, I can easily imagine one of the bigger airlines investing in a 3D printer and putting it in the snack area of an A380 or setting one up in a premium lounge to differentiate themselves from other carriers. Alaska Airlines already has their Pancake Bot running in their Board Room lounges; perhaps a functional 3D food printer on airlines isn’t that far off after all…