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NASA-funded 3D pizza printer debuts at SXSW Eco

It's not quite 3D-printed meat, but a 3D printer funded by NASA can print and cook mini pizzas while you wait.


(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

It's not quite 3D-printed meat, but a 3D printer funded by NASA can print and cook mini pizzas while you wait.

Earlier this year, NASA paid a US$125,000 grant to Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) in Austin, Texas, to develop a 3D food printer so that astronauts could enjoy some freshly cooked delicious food in space. And what's more delicious than pizza?

That's the first dish SMRC's senior mechanical engineer and founder Anjan Contractor has tackled, showing off his progress at SXSW Eco. Using an open-source RepRap 3D printer, he has replaced the ink cartridges with printable ingredients. These are made up of powdered bases mixed with oil and water, which are then printed with modified extruder nozzles.

The printer bed is a heated plate that cooks the food as it is printed, with the entire process taking about 12 minutes. So far, it's a pretty basic pizza, just dough, sauce and cheese, but Contractor has big plans mdash; far beyond just providing the technology to astronauts.

Yummo! (Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

He believes that, in the future, a 3D food printer could be a common household appliance. People could buy pre-made ingredient cartridges in grocery stores, returning them for a refill when they are empty.

"We can pretty much provide food on table with very few resources," Contractor said. "Let's say someone is an athlete in the family, and they need more protein. We can design recipes for them and print out more protein-nutritious food for that individual. And at the same time, say someone is pregnant and requiring more iron. We can bring more iron-enriched food."

The food printed by Contractor's machine isn't quite suitable for human consumption yet, though. In the US, at least, it needs to undergo FDA approval before anyone can get their nosh on.

Still, the idea is an exciting one. Imagine coming home from work, flipping a few switches and having a delicious, fresh 3D-printed calzone within 20 minutes (powdered meat, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) without having to lift more than a finger. We can only imagine astronauts will be even more thrilled at the idea.

You can see it in action in the two videos below. Skip to about 1:10 in the second video to get to the good bit.