A Chicago chef has taken us one step closer to a Star Trek reality. Homaru Cantu has modified an ink-jet printer to print food. Well not quite food yet, but with ink cartridges loaded with fruit and vegetable mixtures, and a paper tray loaded with soybean and potato starch 'paper,' he's getting there. He's able to print out edible pictures that can be fried, frozen, or baked; restaurant patrons can even tear up their menus and add them to the soup.
It's not quite the replicator you see on the Enterprise, but it won't be long now before I can stand near a spot on the wall and say “Earl Grey, hot” and have it materialize out of thin air. Or fat air, for that matter. Cantu won't say how he's modified his printer, as there are patents pending, and I can see why. After all there are a lot of potential applications. For instance, most new built kitchens come with Internet connected computers. Busy Moms and Dads may soon be able to print dinner faster than they can microwave it. Indeed, forget downloading music: that is soooo 20th century. Download fillet mignon instead.
The 12 million pizza advertising flyers you got in the mail today? Wouldn't they be a lot more appealing if they actually tasted of pizza? And wouldn't those annoying magazine insert cards that fall into your lap be more tolerable if they were potato chip flavored?
The world's spies might enjoy their work a little more, if the mission instructions they're always having to eat were a bit more palatable. I'm sure James Bond would enjoy martini-flavored notes from Her Majesty's secret service. Heck, I'd enjoy a martini-flavored note from Her Majesty's secret service, and I wouldn't care if it were shaken, stirred, or folded into a paper airplane.
Given that newspaper ink tends to spread over everything within a five foot radius of the paper, breakfast and the morning newspaper could be combined the newspaper could become breakfast. “Honey, are you going to eat that sports section?”
Eating your words might not be so humbling. Dogs will actually eat your kid's homework. Licking stamps might not have to be nauseating anymore.
On the other hand, there may be some drawbacks with printable food. Those pizza flyers I mentioned earlier will make the postal worker's lives exceptionally difficult dogs love pizza too. Busy moms will have to make sure their husbands and kids don't eat the stuff set aside for the bake sale or the big Feldman presentation she printed off for work. The printers will be dirt cheap but it will probably turn out that the refill cartridges will be $500 each. Plus you'll start getting junk email advertising 'Prescription drugs, Rolex watches, AND FoodJet ink CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP!'
If you got an 'Out of Potato' error you wouldn't know whether to call a sous chef or tech support. A paper jam would set off the smoke detector. You might find your printer secretly hooking up to the Internet in the wee hours of the morning to surf illicit food sites. There would be pop-up windows asking, “Do you want fries with that fax?” Inevitably there will be a food printer virus which causes your printer to spit out dozens of cheesecake printouts.
Hang on, that won't be a problem… But there might be one that plays mind games with you printing a picture of a milkshake that actually tastes like a pork chop for example. And you can bet that some industry chief will decide it's a good idea to a launch lawsuit against the 10-year-old in Moose Jaw who downloaded an illegal copy of a McBurger. The biggest problem, however, will be the fact that it's based on &30151; printer technology. You'll be desperate for a quick fix of ice cream paper and it will flash “PC LOAD LETTER” at you for hours. You'll be late for work because you spent 20 minutes trying to get your muffin print out unstuck from the rollers. Or your important dinner guests will arrive to find you pounding your keyboard in frustration, screaming, “What do you MEAN you can't find the printer? It's RIGHT THERE!”
Of course it could be worse. We could be basing our first attempts at Star Trek transporter beams on printer technology.
To read more of Chandra's work, visit www.ChandraKClarke.com.