Apr. 9, 2015 | By Alec

While chocolate 3D printing experiments seem to be taking over the internet in recent months, we can’t just only eat chocolate all the time. That’s why it’s very refreshing to see this whole new take on the concept of 3D printing food. It’s called the Lunchbot, and this machine is essentially a hacked 3D printer designed to make traditional Japanese packed lunches known as bento boxes.

A gorgeously designed bento lunch box - not made with the Lunchbot!

For those of you who’ve never heard of a bento lunch, these are single box lunches you can make at home or buy at a take-out. They typically contain everything you need to get through your busy life as a Japanese salesman: rice, fish or meat and steamed vegetables. These traditional lunches are widely eaten throughout Japan, and it’s become something of a sport to decorate them as nicely as possible – just think of a smiley face made from eggs and bacon, but then using rice, fish and veggies. A quick search of the web will leave you in awe of some of the creations people have made, including replicas of famous architectural structures, animals, cars and even people’s own faces. And I was always told not to play with my food.

Now you might wonder what this has to do with the Lunchbot. Unfortunately, the Lunchbot doesn’t exactly 3D print an entire bento lunch for you in whatever fanciful shape you like, but it does help you during the crucial decorating stage that will enable you to one-up your coworkers. For the Lunchbot essentially 3D prints furikake flakes instead of filament, a dry spice powder often used to decorate rice and give it some much-needed taste. This powder usually includes dried fish, seaweed and all sorts of spices.

While creating detailed shapes with furikake can be a nightmare, its all in a day’s work for the Lunchbot. Using 3D printing software and a filled bento box as a print bed, it simply extrudes the flakes in whatever pattern you’d like. Designed by student Yoshihiro Asano from the Keio University in Tokyo, its efficient and fun way to get highly detailed designs on your bentos.

As Yoshihiro explained in a blog post, this machine is a hacked Solidoodle 3D printer that essentially started as a joke, it turned into something much more fun. Uploading a stencil sprinkle sheet into modified 3D printing software, the Lunchbot features a special ‘printhead’ to ‘extrude’ the flakes. ‘The biggest problem during design was that the rice tends to stick to the extruder!’ Yoshihiro explains. His final design therefore relies on furikake cartridges, controlled by an Arduino, that drop the flakes from a considerable height onto the rice. But as you can see above this does little damage to details. A line of black sesame seeds, finally, are added to highlight the design.

While not exactly capable of producing rice and seaweed pandas, this converted 3D printer is certainly capable of making lives of bento-makers everywhere much easier. Reactions in Yoshihiro home country were certainly positive, where the machine caught the eye of numerous convention visitors.  Perhaps a comfortable future as a home appliance in the Japanese market awaits?



Posted in 3D Printers


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