Writers of space-based science fiction often overlook the basic principles of science when crafting their yarns. Simple facts about space travel like microgravity and the speed of light are deemed to be too inconvenient to design around — so instead they get ignored.
For example, the ABC TV series Defying Gravity from a few years back also defied Newtonian physics. Characters in zero gravity areas of the ship used “grav suits” laced with nano-fibers to pull them to the floor. They coated their hair with nano-spray to stop it from floating. In effect, nano-technology simply became another word for ‘magic’ — a catch-all deus ex machina.
Even the well-received spacecraft Prometheus (see FutureDude’s positive review here) from Ridley Scott’s upcoming film of the same name has big “where does the gravity come from?” issues. It’s basically a macho VTOL airplane, not a ship created for the demands of space.
The replicators in the Star Trek universe have always felt like the same type of literary device: an easy solution to a complex problem. Need to supply food to a crew of hundreds on a long mission into the emptiness of deep space? No problem. This little box makes all that you’ll ever need. Problem solved.
Well, real science is catching up to imagination. It may not be a replicator yet, but 3D printers are taking the first step towards sci-fi. Since the 80′s, 3D prototyping has been making steady progress. Today, the technology can be yours ready-to-plug-in for $1,000 (and less than that for a kit if you’re a DIYer with a weekend or two to spare).
3D printers may be the next revolution in consumer society; comparable in impact to the internet. Imagine you’re working on the sink — instead of driving to the hardware store for that doohickey — you simply download a public domain file for it, and press Print.
In the future, even more complex multi-part objects will be possible to manufacture. And as 3D printer technology gets cheaper and smaller, spin-off concepts will ride in their wake.
One such lateral development is the food printer. What if you had an appliance that could provide exactly the type of food you wanted, when and where you wanted it? No mess, no waste: a custom-printed meal. That’s the promise of food printers — another replicator-like vision of tomorrow.
Instead of drops of ink, the food printer lays down little drops of processed food. Then with a laser you can custom cook each delectable pixel for as long as you want, at a precise temperature. It makes our current kitchen devices look as crude as a campfire in the outback.
Pablos Holman — known among the hacker community for various forward-thinking projects — was frustrated by the amount of waste that he saw in America’s food supply chain. In fact, according to the Stockholm International Water Institute, perhaps as much as 50% of our food supply is wasted. As an inventor with the firm Intellectual Ventures, Holman is uniquely positioned to do something about it.
His objective is to network all of us into a food consumption matrix — eliminate the waste that is endemic to the industry by producing exactly what’s needed in precise quantities. Also, access to the sheer amount of data, theoretically, can make a meal which is healthier and targeted especially to your dietary concerns.
As quoted on the podcast Freakonomics, Holman describes the process:
So when I print your meal, I get your allergens accounted for, any dietary restrictions are avoided, I might incorporate your pharmaceuticals, I might be sending a report back to your doctor that you might be getting the right dosage of these things everyday.
Once you’re eating from printers every day like this, the fundamental part is that we’ve networked your food consumption. Now we know a lot more about what you eat, and we can use that to help you out.
Just imagine if you had a problem with too much sodium. I can just ratchet it down a few milligrams a day over the next few months to get you down closer to zero, and you’ll never even notice it’s happening.
Holman is working on a future where your computer will not only print out your meal, but analyze its data for nutritive content. By automating and pulling the human element out (self-reporting in a food journal, for example), the tracking is more accurate — also, it becomes an ambient part of your daily experience.
The refrigerator talks to the food printer which talks to your smartphone which tracks (via GPS and EPA database) the amount of pollutants you’re encountering as you walk around the city. This information is cross-referenced with updates from your physician. Back home, the printer knows to modify your dinner to compensate for the stresses and rigors of the day.
Yeah, sounds like science fiction — and it’s arriving sooner than we think.
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