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Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Digitally Enhanced Food
What can we do today in terms of food replication? Here, the authors distinguish between three food types based on how pervasive computing has contributed to the design process, production, and final appearance: digitally produced food (DPF), digitally enhanced food (DEF), and computer-assisted food design (CAFD).
There's an episode of Star Trek in which Captain Jonathan Archer and his crew—Ensign Hoshi Sato and Commander Tucker—are standing around an empty table. Commander Tucker asks about the table, and Sato responds that it's a "molecular synthesizer of some kind—similar to a protein sequencer." She then asks the table for some cold water; they hear a "swuz" sound and a glass of water appears. Commander Tucker asks for a pan-fried catfish, and "swuz"—a plate of fish appears. He tastes the fish and announces that it's "not bad!"
This Star Trek
scene, taken from a transcript of the TV series (the "Deadstop" episode; goo.gl/TvNon), 1
is futuristic. However, this type of application is becoming more feasible with recent advances in technology (for other examples of replicators in movies and books, see the sidebar). Someday, a new kind of table might combine computational and digital aspects of food design, technology, and engineering. With the advent of pervasive computing environments and infrastructures that support smart artifacts, 2
new opportunities are emerging. For example, Heston Blumental's "Sounds of the Sea" dish enhances the taste of seafood by playing sea sounds on an iPod while the diner eats. Blumental based the dish on research done in collaboration with Charles Spence, who has shown how different sounds can change and enhance taste. 3
Recent advances in 3D printing technologies and laser cutting could be a good starting point for digitally produced food developments.
What can we do today in terms of food replication? Here, we distinguish between three food types based on how pervasive computing has contributed to the design process, production, and final appearance.
One line of research is digitally produced food, which follows the idea of the food replicator and produces or processes food digitally.
Jo Kazuhiro and Kentaro Fukuchi's experiments with laser cooking exemplify digitally produced food. 4
They show how to cook food according to its shape to add a new taste or texture.
For example, they argue the taste of raw bacon is good except for the raw fat. As such, they use image detection to identify the fat part of the bacon and then use a laser cutter to cook only those parts (see Figure 1
Figure 1. Laser cooking experiments by Kazuhiro and Fukuchi. They used a laser cutter and image processing to cook only the fat parts of a piece of bacon, creating a new culinary experience.
Recent advances in 3D printing technologies and laser cutting could be a good starting point for digitally produced food developments. We're also seeing more FabLabs appearing, 5
where people can use such technologies to build whatever they want. Furthermore, the technology itself is growing cheaper—you can now build a photo camera or 3D printer for just a few dollars. 6
Researchers have also conducted novel experiments using a 3D printer to print edible objects ( http://goo.gl/YTi0w). Instead of adding different materials layer by layer to create a solid object from a digital 3D model, they use an edible material. One example is the CandyFab 3D printer, which can create 3D models by caramelizing sugar ( http://wiki.candyfab.org). The Choc Creator, developed by Liang Hao in cooperation with the University of Brunel, creates 3D edible chocolate models ( http://goo.gl/wwe0b).
Another approach is digitally enhanced food, where the food itself can be enriched using computational power directly embedded or linked into the food. One example is our QR Code Cookies (Qkies; http://qkies.de). The original idea behind Qkies was developed in 2007 ( http://goo.gl/qXGJF). Together with Andrea Juchem, general manager of Juchem Food, we turned this idea into a product that lets people distribute QR codes as they share cookies with others (see Figure 2
). We used QR Codes instead of AR Marker, because QR Codes are better known and QR Code readers are available for all major mobile platforms. You can give your friends and acquaintances cookies that link to a specific site—a YouTube video, a photo from Flickr, or your own website (see http://goo.gl/iF84Y).
You can give your friends and acquaintances cookies that link to a specific site—a YouTube video, a photo from Flickr, or your own website.
Figure 2. Qkies—QR Code Cookies. You can give your friends and acquaintances cookies that link to a specific site.
Another interesting prototype is the Meta cookie, 7
which combines a head-mounted display (HMD) with an olfactory display to present different cupcakes to the users, even though there's really just one cookie tagged with an AR code. The cookie is tracked and overlaid with various cupcakes in the user's HMD. The HMD also covers the nose and provides a smell depending on the selected cupcake. This setup was also used to modify perception of satiety and control nutritional intake by changing the apparent size of food with augmented reality. 8
Computer-Assisted Food Design
With computer-assisted food design, devices and interfaces can add another artistic component to food by helping users design good-looking food, possibly helping to improve eating habits as well. As a starting point, consider Tea Kitakata and Brittany Powell's innovative food art. In their "Sandwich Artist"blog, they present food on toast in unique designs (see http://goo.gl/zzbfj). They also have a project that encourages students to create art and objects using cafeteria food (see Figure 3
Figure 3. "Mensa Battle" ( http://goo.gl/ldgqb). Students use the university's cafeteria food to create art and objects. This "battle" is a good starting point for computerassisted food design.
We envision using computing technologies to assist in this design process to create even more visually appealing food. For example, a mobile app might let you take a photo of a meal you've prepared, and the app will return suggestions for rearranging the dish before you serve it for a more artistic presentation.
Compared to other application domains, digitally enhanced food is underrepresented in the pervasive computing community. We hope to stimulate discussion and research activities. Food is often wasted, and we should exploit technology to find new ways to create sustainable food that's tasty, interesting, and healthy. Workshops are now popping up on this topic that are driving new food and technology research agendas, including Gastronomy and Technology Days ( www.gastrotechdays.com); Food and Interaction Design ( http://di.ncl.ac.uk/foodixd), which was held at ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2012); and Food for Thought ( www.urbaninformatics.net/resources/ffthought), which will be at the ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS 2012).
is an independent researcher and entrepreneur and the inventor of "Qkies." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
is a professor of interaction design and director of the Interaction Centre at University College London (UCL IC). Her research is concerned with designing interactive technologies that can enhance life by augmenting and extending everyday activities. Contact her at email@example.com.
is a professor of computer science at Saarland University, where he heads the Ubiquitous Media Technology Lab. He's also the scientific director of the Innovative Retail Laboratory (IRL) at the German Research Center for AI (DFKI). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.