Three MIT students have been showing off a modified 3D printer that can produce customized ice cream shapes, and if the process is refined successfully you could be having your desserts to order in the near future. Using a Solidoodle printer and a Cuisinart soft-serve ice cream machine the team was able to produce designs within a self-imposed 15-minute window.
The students working on the project are Kyle Hounsell, Kristine Bunker, and David Donghyun Kim. To keep the ice cream cold and in shape, the 3D printer was placed inside a small freezer, while the printed mixture itself was sprayed with a liquid nitrogen solution. After several less-than-impressive early runs, the setup eventually printed a star-shaped dessert that might one day appear on a restaurant menu.
“We were inspired to design this printer because we wanted to make something fun with this up-and-coming technology in a way that we could grab the attention of kids,” Kristine Bunker told TechCrunch. “We felt that it was just as important to come up with a new technology as it was to interest the younger generation in pursuing science and technology so we can continue pushing the limits of what is possible.”
The MIT students had to modify their $499 Solidoodle printer to move the base of the device outside its original enclosure to leave room for the liquid nitrogen cooler. The challenge then was to create a mechanism that meant all the parts of the design were cooled in equal measure.
Many different foods and dishes have already been made with experimental 3D printing technology. Fruit, pizzas, sweets and various other edible objects have been churned out as printers get more intelligent and more cost-effective, though these projects are still very much works in progress.
The students say that they aren’t aiming to replace any existing products or technology: “This is a novel process that we hope will get kids excited about the potential of the technology. We imagine this technology being marketable in ice cream parlors such as Dairy Queen where customers can order an ice cream treat, wait 15 minutes, and see the shape they chose be created. Of course last, and more importantly, we aim to enjoy the ice cream after successful printing!”