In Star Trek, food magically appeared via miraculous “food replicators.” In Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan, our anti-hero Spider Jerusalem used a “maker” to generate everything from home-cooked meals to body armor. Now comes a futuristic platform from Japan that can already transmit and generate pixelated made-to-order sushi.
The company is called Open Meals, which demonstrated its concept at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, showcasing the generating technology and 3D printer that can make what it calls “8-bit sushi.” While it may sound like something of a gimmick, the platform’s creators have ambitious plans for a concept that could mark radical changes in how food is created and delivered.
The basic concept of 3D-printed food isn’t so novel — a variety of creators are working in the space to make faux meat, ice cream, and even fruit. However, Open Meals is employing some unique technology that allows it to customize food down to mere millimeters. Where most food printers produce layers of pureed ingredients, Open Meals uses a water-based creation system that adds flavors, nutrients, and colors as the “cube” is assembled.
The creative side for wannabe chefs comes in the company’s “Food Base,” a digital storage and delivery platform that keeps granular information on different types of foods including taste, texture, color, shape, and ingredients. Open Meals envisions even more applications for the Food Base, such as re-creating traditional or cultural recipes or having celebrity chefs create custom recipes that could then be sold as additional content for a user’s home Food Base.
The other component is the “Pixel Food Printer,” a complex food creation platform that uses digital technology, a robotic arm, and a series of cartridges that inject flavor, color, nutrition and gelatinizing agents into the sushi or other foods. According to the company’s website, the printer can effectively make simple reproductions of just about any food, but also encourages users to “design and create any dishes desired to greatly expand the possibilities for food.”
At SXSW, the company made good on its promise by creating high-end sushi that was designed in Japan and printing it on the spot in Austin. Futurists are very keen on the idea, which could have long-ranging repercussions on the way humans consume food. Because the injected gels can be customized, they could potentially be used to deliver vital nutrients to the elderly, the ill, or professional athletes. Open Meals believes they could beam measurements and dimensions directly to remote outposts like the International Space Station, where astronauts could potentially print out a “home-cooked” meal.
Because the sushi is currently printing in five-millimeter blocks, the result is a bit old-school, resembling tasty tidbits that wouldn’t be out of place in a video game. However, Open Meals believes it can eventually reach sizes of one millimeter or less, resulting in better-looking and more malleable designs.
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