Professor Hod Lipson of Columbia University is developing a coffeemaker-sized 3D food printer that has practical applications in the home kitchen, for nutrition and health benefits, and for special needs populations.

By Danica Lo
Updated June 28, 2018
© Timothy Lee Photographers

At the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia University, Professor Hod Lipson is hot on the heels of one of the biggest trends in home and office technology—3D printing—and he wants to make it accessible from the comfort of your own home. The multi-disciplinary lab, which comprises talent from departments including engineering, computer science, physics, math, and biology, is dedicated to taking ideas from abstract models to working systems—and their latest endeavor feels like it's straight from the future. Say hello to professor Lipson's coffeemaker-sized 3D food printer, destined (fingers crossed) for a kitchen countertop near you.

"I really find this whole idea of food printing so exciting because it touches on something that's very basic to our lives," Lipson says. "We've been cooking forever, but if you think about it, while technology and software has wormed its way into almost every aspect of our lives, cooking is still very primitive.... The moment you unleash this computer-controlled, this programmable way of cooking, we'll have access to a new food space."

Besides the obvious application—making recipe execution foolproof and a home cook's life easier—Lipson points out that there are plenty more, data- and health-driven benefits to be had from automating cooking.

"There are a lot of opportunities around printing food, starting with the ability to control nutrition all the way to creating new and novel food items that you cannot make any other way," Lipson says. "Your breakfast wouldn't be made out of processed foods that are standard one-size-fits-all but would actually have exactly what you need, what's good for you that day based on your biometrics."

He points out that having a home-based 3D food printer could lead to an entirely new way of engaging online, as well—with users sharing tips and tricks and recipes "going viral." But Lipson's new invention won't be unleashed into the wild without some help from the pros.

According to the Huffington Post UK, Creative Machines Lab is teaming up with the International Culinary Center in New York City to experiment and create new kinds of foods with the printer—different types and textures serving both the mainstream home cook as well as special needs. "I think they will be very useful in the area of health and nutrition," ICC's Director of Food and Technology, Herve Malivert, told HuffPo, "especially in nursing homes and hospitals."