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Burritobot asks: Would you eat a burrito made by a 3D printer?

The future of 3D food printing is closer than you might imagine. We’ve already seen printers that churn out chocolate delights, and we’ve read many more stories on 3D printed cakes, pasta, and cookies. But a burrito made by a 3D printer? This seems a bit new.

Unlike previous food 3D printers that make relatively dry, low ingredient food, the Burritobot will print all the toppings you’d find on a typical burrito or taco. Designed by New York University graduate student Marko Manriquez, the Burritobot can pump out black beans, pinto beans, cheese, pico de gallo, cream, mild salsa, and hot salsa onto a pre-made tortilla. All the user has to do is select the desired topping and amount via an iOS or Ruby web-based app to customize their dish before letting Burritobot do the work.

The Burritobot is much like assembly line machine but on a much smaller scale. The prototype parts are mostly plastic, and the only thing that makes the printed item edible is replacing “inks” with ingredients. Creating food via 3D printers also takes quite some time. Depending on the intricacies, some items could take up to hours for one complete piece. Manriquez’s design relies solely on changing the way fast food can be customized and automated, and allowing robots to handle the small details of a food order. After all, how many times have you walked into a McDonald’s and ask that they put no pickle in your hamburger, but find it there anyway?

Of course, one of the more important factors is taste. How does 3D-printed food compare with handcrafted confections?

“Any food that can be converted into paste form can be extruded and hence 3-D printed… The main limitation in this design is that the ingredients have to that paste-like (or Play Dough) consistency to go through the printer’s syringe,” Manriquez explains to Fast Co.Design. “So unfortunately, ingredients like lettuce, or chunky bits of meat or salsa are not going to extrude out of a tiny 18 gauge syringe hole. You’re just not going to get that desired mouth feel of carne asada. [The burritos are] alright.”

Manriquez hopes that with a few extra touches and changes, robots might soon be able to replicate the skills of a human chef. Still, Burritobot is a benchmark for 3D food printing as companies may now try to adapt the idea to produce low-cost and quick machines that can crank out perfect orders of fast food even with unique customer requests.

The question, of course, is if you would be willing to pay for food made by robots. In terms of fast food, it may make sense, but we’d imagine you would rather pay premiums at a restaurant for the skills of a real, live chef. If 3D food printers don’t make it as fast food robots, they may likely to become a new category of home appliances.