Cornucopia

Prototypes and Concept Designs for a Digital Gastronomy

Food is one of the fundamental ingredients of life. We cannot go a day without it before experiencing discomfort and the kinds of food we eat and how we eat them are closely intertwined with our cultural practices, physical environments and personal health. Nonetheless, we have been cooking progressively less.

While digital media has transformed every facet of society, the fundamental technologies we encounter in the kitchen today provide only incremental improvements to the tools we have been using for hundreds of years. In order to bring our cooking technologies to the digital age, we have developed several prototypes and concept designs that combine digital fabrication technologies and food.

Each design addresses a fundamental process that lies at the heart of cooking, namely the mixing of ingredients; the physical and chemical transformation of these ingredients into new compounds; and finally their modeling into aesthetically pleasing and delectable textures and shapes. Our hope is that these concepts and prototypes will provide a glimpse at the new aesthetic and cultural possibilities, which can be brought forth by a new, digital gastronomy.

Digital Chocolatier Prototype

The Digital Chocolatier is a prototype for a machine that allows users to quickly design, assemble and taste different chocolate candies. This machine is composed of three primary elements: a carousel of ingredients, a thermoelectric deposition cup and a user interface. Through a graphical user interface, users can select and combine the ingredients housed in the different carousel containers to create customized candies. The carousel rotates to extrude these ingredients into the thermoelectric cup that rapidly cools and hardens the chocolate, making it ready for consumption. The interface also makes it possible to save and rate favorite recipes for later use.

Digital Fabricator Concept

The Digital Fabricator is a personal, three-dimensional printer for food, which works by storing, precisely mixing, depositing and cooking layers of ingredients. Its cooking process starts with an array of food canisters, which refrigerate and store a user’s favorite ingredients. These are piped into a mixer and extruder head that can accurately deposit elaborate food combinations with sub-millimeter precision. While the deposition takes place, the food is heated or cooled by the Fabricator’s chamber or the heating and cooling tubes located on the printing head. This fabrication process not only allows for the creation of flavors and textures that would be completely unimaginable through other cooking techniques, but, through a touch-screen interface and web connectivity, also allows users to have ultimate control over the origin, quality, nutritional value and taste of every meal.

Robotic Chef Concept

The Robotic Chef is a mechanical arm designed to physically and chemically transform a single solid food object, such as a steak, fish or a fruit. It allows for two types of transformations: localized and precise manipulations performed with an array of tools located in the toolhead; and global transformations performed through the underlying bed and two 5-degree of freedom robotic arms.

The toolhead holds an array of interchangeable manipulation devices, such as a drill bits, mineral and spices injection syringes, and a lower power laser diode, which can programmatically cut, cook and spice the food held by the arm. The underlying bed houses a heating plate which can heat and cook the food while the arm can apply mechanical transformations, such as compressions, elongations, and torsion, as well as control the location of the food underneath the toolhead. These transformation processes allow cooks to exert highly localized and repeatable food manipulations that would be impossible to achieve through traditional cooking methods.

Virtuoso Mixer Concept

The Virtuoso Mixer is a machine composed of a three-layer rotating carousel that provides cooks with an efficient way to mix multiple ingredient variations and experiment with subtle differences in taste and composition. At the top layer, we find eight containers that can be filled with off-the-shelf ingredients and are outfitted with weight scales, as well as temperature and humidity sensors for monitoring the properties and quantity of food they contain. The middle layer houses eight mixing containers with several types of crushing and mixing devices. The final, lower layer, functions as an extrusion tray where the final ingredient mixture is deposited. It is outfitted with an array of thermoelectric heating and cooling elements and an insulating glass cover for quickly baking and modifying the temperature of the produced mixtures.

The machine’s interface is designed to allow users to easily and rapidly experiment with different ingredient combinations. As ingredients move from the top to lower layers, they can be combined in precisely controlled amounts, crushed and mixed to different degrees, and eventually be extruded to compile food samples made of discrete layers with varying thicknesses. The large range of possible combinations allows chefs to quickly design, produce and evaluate (by tasting) several ingredient combinations. The final digital recipes can eventually be saved, shared with other machines or users, or be simply retrieved by the same machine for the future preparation of a meal.

Conclusion

Far from simply bringing the production of processed food to the home, the Digital Gastronomy machines described here attempt to use the most advanced food technologies and techniques to retain the freshness of ingredients, increase the potential for personal creative expression and develop a new and tighter connection between food production and our digital lives. We believe these technologies cannot only expand the palette available to cooks today, but can also do it in a networked, collaborative and accessible fashion, akin to the digital design and fabrication revolution that is well under way in industrial design and architecture.

Credits

Concept designs developed in collaboration with Amit Zoran. Prototypes developed with the assistance of Zachary Nelson, Josh Ramos and Varun Perumal.