NASA-commissioned 3D food printer makes on-demand pizza
A 3D printer that was originally funded by NASA for astronauts to use in space will instead be used to 3D print pizza at public events. After having its NASA grant axed, the Texas researchers behind the 3D printer formed BeeHex, a company that will use the machine in commercial environments.
While the excitement of fused deposition modeling might be sufficient nourishment for tech-heads like you and me, others remain more interested in base pleasures like eating pizza. That great cultural divide will soon be no more, however, because the 3D printing industry is about to collide head-on with the hungry and impatient general public via what you might call “food deposition modeling”—3D printed pizza, in other words. Texas-based 3D printing company BeeHex is planning to sell 3D printed slices at sporting events and theme parks, repurposing an advanced food-printing machine originally built for NASA astronauts.
In 2013, when preparing a manned mission to Mars, NASA commissioned a number of auxiliary projects to be supported by a federal grant. One of those recipients was the Materials Research Corporation, based in Austin, Texas, which planned to develop a 3D printer which could print food in space. The company built its first iteration of the seemingly space-bound 3D printer using funds from an initial grant, but Congressional budget cuts meant that support was cut before a second grant was ever delivered.
Instead of abandoning its food-printing 3D printer altogether, the Texas-based company decided to repurpose the machine for use on Earth. In 2015, Anjan Contractor, Jordan French, Chintan Kanuga, and Ben Feltnera formed a new company, BeeHex, which will reportedly provide on-demand 3D printed pizzas at concerts, arenas, and other public places. According to the company, customers will order the pizza via a smartphone app, pay online, and collect the printed pizza when it’s done.
The new version of the 3D printer will utilize multiple nozzles, through which digital chefs can separately input pre-made ingredients such as pizza dough, sauce, and cheese. The machine will be able to clean itself, and can fabricate a complete pizza in just four minutes—the average human assembly time being around nine minutes. The BeeHex 3D printer will also be adapted for uses besides pizza: for example, the company has begun to experiment with chocolate and icing—other crowd-friendly foods could make the machine a viable choice for sports arenas, concert halls, and theme parks.
Originally designed to print food with adjustable nutritional contents, the 3D printer was earmarked as a way to feed astronauts based on their specific dietary requirements, which could potentially have proved useful when crew members became sick. Unfortunately, while it was being prepared for use by NASA, senator Tom Coburn criticized the initial $125,000 grant given to the company for being wasteful and impractical, and a planned second grant was eventually pulled.
By making 3D printed pizza that is “not only visually appealing but delicious, creating excitement among chefs, restaurant chains, theme parks and major food brands,” BeeHex could be well-placed to make a mark in the 3D printed food industry, following in the footsteps of innovative creations like the candy-printing Magic Candy Factory from Katjes Fassin and 3D printed food restaurant Food Ink.
Cheesy pizza from a 3D printer? Sounds like our kind of meal.
See video of ongoing chocolate 3D Printing TRIALS