But Contractor, a mechanical engineer with a background in 3D printing, envisions a much more mundane—and ultimately more important—use for the technology. He sees a day when every kitchen has a 3D printer, and the earth’s 12 billion people feed themselves customized, nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time, from cartridges of powder and oils they buy at the corner grocery store. Contractor’s vision would mean the end of food waste, because the powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years, so that each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would be fully exhausted before being returned to the store.
Ubiquitous food synthesizers would also create new ways of producing the basic calories on which we all rely. Since a powder is a powder, the inputs could be anything that contain the right organic molecules. We already know that eating meat is environmentally unsustainable, so why not get all our protein from insects?
If eating something spat out by the same kind of 3D printers that are currently being used to make everything from jet engine parts to fine art doesn’t sound too appetizing, that’s only because you can currently afford the good stuff, says Contractor. That might not be the case once the world’s population reaches its peak size, probably sometime near the end of this century.
Of course we’re only about halfway to that 12 billion mark, so maybe there’s time to perfect this so that it’s not so… disgusting. Even the good folks on the USS Enterprise managed to eat decent looking, tasty food from their replicators. Even if they made Troi’s chocolate sundae out of insect proteins, they managed to replicate it into a bowl of deliciousness.
And speaking of chocolate, Hershey is getting into the 3D printing game too. They’ve partnered up with 3D Systems to produce 3D printers for edibles.
While you’re at it, you might as well read Mashable’s run-down of a bunch of the 3D food future.