The grocery store beverage aisle is packed with a seemingly endless assortment of energy drinks, sparkling waters and sodas. You might think there's little these drinks have in common. But apart from a small fraction of compounds that give each its unique flavor, smell, color and texture, about 95% of any beverage is just... water.
Taking that idea, Silicon Valley startup Cana has built a beverage machine called Cana One that can create and customize virtually any cold drink by just playing around with that small percentage of compounds. Using the machine's built-in touchscreen, you can choose from an assortment of energy drinks, seltzers, soft drinks and even cocktails. You can also adjust flavors and sugar, caffeine and alcohol levels, and add nutrients. Tap a button, and the machine will pour your drink.
This isn't just another beverage machine in a fairly saturated market, Cana says. The company calls its device a molecular beverage printer, because it's essentially re-creating beverages from the ground up.
"It's taking individual compounds -- functional compounds, flavor compounds, base mixtures -- and then re-creating stuff on the fly," said Cana CEO Bharat Vasan. "This is something that I think is intended to be much more personal, and it's intended to be like an infinite beverage aisle on your countertop. And that's very, very different from anything anyone else can do on the planet today."
Third-party brands can feature their beverages on the Cana One. And while the company has been in talks with some major brands as well as smaller ones, the focus is primarily on allowing content creators to make and promote their own drinks. Along with influencers and artists, fitness instructors could make a post-workout beverage, for example.
"Think of it as democratizing brands, so it's not just big brands on the platform," Vasan said.
The idea is to not only make beverage consumption and customization more convenient for customers, but also to reduce the beverage industry's negative impact on the planet. Around 543 million tons of CO2 is generated by the industry each year, according to Cana. Additionally, around 78 million tons of plastic is produced annually to make packaging, according to the World Economic Forum, and much of that ends up in landfills or oceans. From there, it takes hundreds of years for plastic to decompose.
Instead of relying on factories to make and distribute beverages all over the world, the idea behind Cana One is to take the water you already have in your home and inject those unique flavors and ingredients that make up your favorite drink. A cartridge inside the machine dispenses those ingredients in the right amounts to create thousands of drink variations.
Cana One costs $900. Cartridges last about a month, and new ones will automatically ship to you for free. Customers pay by drink, ranging from about 10 cents to $5 per beverage. The exact price is up to brands to decide.
Cana debuted its beverage machine last March and is preparing to ship the device later this year. The company also partnered with Patrick Stewart, of Star Trek fame, who now serves as a brand ambassador.
"We think of this product as being the closest thing to a Star Trek replicator," Vasan said. "It felt like he was the right ambassador and the right mission-aligned person for the company for us to partner with to tell the story."
Check out the video above for more on how Cana's team rebuilds popular beverages at the molecular level, and to see me create and sample my own custom beverages.