This series explores the world of 3D printing through the most navel-gazing image possible: the selfie.
He seemed surprised that I wanted to eat it. I was standing in the middle of Storebound’s New York City offices with a plate of my face in pancake form hot off the 3D printer, staring at the guy who’d just helped me engineer my breakfast.
“Do you have any maple syrup?” I asked.
I had been waiting for this moment for a while. As soon as I’d heard about the PancakeBot, a gizmo that would PRINT PANCAKES, I’d known those flapjacks were in my future.
You start by either choosing a design from the archives or drawing an original image with the PancakePainter app. I’d used the PancakePainter to make a pretty rooky cartoon of myself.
Save it to an SD card, pop it in the printer, and hit a few buttons and the PancakeBot draws the image in batter onto a griddle: A pump forces the air into the nozzle holding the batter, causing it to dispense, and a vacuum keeps the batter in place. The printer moves the nozzle over the griddle, tracing the lines you drew on your screen. Dark lines on the image are painted first so the batter can cook longer while lighter sections on the image are painted last. Here’s a slick video to explain the process.
After an inventor named Miguel Valenzuela made the first version out of LEGOs for his daughters, Storebound started working with him on a Kickstarter to see if there was demand. Turns out there was: In less than 30 days more than 2,000 backers pledged more than $460,000, and they’ve sold more than 1,000 units at $300 a pop. Now you can get a pancake printer at a Sears near you (and a host of other places). Legal firms, small businesses like bakeries, and even a 3D-car-printing company have all bought one, as well as many families.
Storebound says they see this as an educational product, something designed to get kids and adults into the kitchen and teach them about viscosity, temperature, and pressure. Sure, that might be true for a few minutes when they first pull it out of the box, but let’s call this what it is: novelty. More disturbing to me is the idea that we’re trying to teach kids how to cook without considering the actual ingredients they’re cooking: Storebound demoes the machine with Aunt Jemima’s, which they water down so that the finished product resembles something somewhere between a crepe and a pancake. You could use your own scratch-made batter to step it up a notch, but that’s clearly not the point of the printer. To me the most exciting thing about 3D printing in the kitchen is that it will elevate food by making it easier to prepare or better-tasting, not that it will become a onetime gimmick.
After waiting about 10 minutes for my pancake to print, I couldn’t wait to bite into it. What I tasted was kind of like a flat, soggy animal cracker with alternating crispy and doughy bites. In other words, the PancakeBot might get you pumped about your breakfast, but in the end you’ll probably go hungry.