When food meets tech... | PDD

When food meets tech…

By Sarita

on January 22 2014

Food and beverage – nourishing, hydrating, stimulating and refreshing. But what happens when you throw a bit of science and technology into the mix? In our blog this week we’ll be taking a look at how the food and beverage industry has been shaped and influenced by technology from other sectors; and where science, technology and art cross over to create whole new experiences…

Image credit: ABSOLUT Unique from ABSOLUT Vodka
Featured image credit: The Future of Food, cover illustration for Icon magazine 104 by Zim and ZouManufacturing inconsistency
From an industry where heavy investment goes into creating consistency for mass manufacture, ABSOLUT Vodka took a very different approach last year to one of their new editions to the Absolute family. The ABSOLUTE Unique campaign explored and reflected the times we are living in through the utilisation of technology to create more personalised experiences for consumers. By re-engineering their production process, ABSOLUT created a series of bottles each featuring a unique design. Using splash guns, colour-generating machines and a specially developed algorithm, individual patterns were placed onto the bottles. Using just 35 colours and 51 patterns, they created nearly four million uniquely designed bottles.

Image credit: ‘Makr Shakr’ robotic bartender by MIT senseable lab + Carlo Ratti  

Crowd-sourced flavour creation
The food and beverage industry hasn’t escaped the crowd-sourcing phenomena either; researchers at the MIT senseable city lab developed a robotic bar tender in collaboration with the Coca-Cola Company and Bacardi. Named ‘Makr Shakr’, consumers were able to create personalised cocktail recipes in real-time using a specially designed app and transform them into crowd-sourced drink combinations. The concept behind this development wasn’t to replace ‘the human touch’; instead it explored the possibilities offered by digital manufacturing technologies, pushing the boundaries of shared sensorial experiences through social media and principles of co-creation.

Image credit: 3D printed pasta prototype by Janne Kyttanen

Technical textures
Artists and designers continue to push the boundaries of technology, sometimes through product improvement and sometimes through provocative narratives. Janne Kyttanen’s 3D printed food exploration touched on both of these elements. Using plastic as a medium for exploration, intricate shapes for ‘pasta’ were created using 3D printing that not only looked beautiful, but also revisited the relationship between form and surface finish to capture sauce.

Image credit: The Sugar Lab, 3D printed sugar 

Moving from niche to known
3D printed food has been explored quite a lot in the past few years through various ingredients from chocolate to cheese and sugar, like these amazingly complex geometric shapes from The Sugar Lab. Personalisation and niche applications has been the mainstay for this technology of late, but developments in this area could soon be taking a leap forward following the news last year that NASA is funding research into the technology for food development.

Image credit: Star Trek food replicator

New frontiers of personalisation
NASA’s exploration of 3D printed food aims to see if this technology can be utilized to provide astronauts with more variety, enhanced nutrition, texture and flavour in meals during long space missions. “The printers will combine powders to produce food that has the structure and texture of actual food.” It may conjure up images of Star Trek for many, but the possibilities of creating food and even entire meals through the ‘digital space’ is probably closer than we may dare to think!

Elevating this type of technology away from the niche and the novel highlights the deeper rooted benefits it could pose in the future. Such as; how could we utilize these developments to redefine ‘supply and demand’?  Could we cut food waste in the future? Find a way around distribution issues? Or, even start to tackle famine?

It seems that now designers and scientist have had space to ‘play’, its time to understand the real benefits such technologies could pose in the future of food development.