The year is 2025. A soldier is low on potassium. Sensors trigger. A machine zaps into existence a banana.
Lauren Oleksyk (leader of the Army’s Natick research lab) is working towards a future where soldiers are fed by 3-D printers. Her team hopes to gather personalized information through head-to-toe sensors that will measure levels of potassium and cholesterol, and then use that information to create efficient, nutrient-heavy meals for the battlefront.
“We envisioned to have a 3-D printer that is interfaced with the soldier. And that sensor can deliver info to the computer software,” Oleksky says to NPR.
These 3-D printers would blast liquids and powders into complex shapes, though there is speculation over whether or not these printers would be able to create a solid food without altering its nutritional value. Other companies have already taken to using 3-D printing technology to create food, such as The Sugar Lab, a startup acquired by 3-D Systems that transforms sugar into sweet candy sculptures for wedding cakes and cocktails. And Biozoon’s Smoothfood concept utilizes the technology to create easily digestible food for the elderly. Natick’s problem, however, has to do with the shelf-life of the printed product, since these foods wouldn’t be viable as MREs (Meals, Ready-to-Eat, as the Army has dubbed them).
So that’s where ultrasonic agglomeration comes in.
This technology projects high frequency sound waves at targeted particles to clump them together, and with meticulous modulation, researchers are able to control the ways these constituents bind together (yielding compact, nonperishable, small snack-type items). Researchers hope to utilize both this process and the advent of 3-D printing to create a nutrient-dense, shelf-stable product.
“Another potential application may be 3-D printing a pizza, baking it, packaging it and putting it in a ration,” Oleksyk tells Army Technology Magazine.
The Army only made pizza workable in as an MRE last year, so the idea that soldiers may have access to meals that are customized not only to their biological needs but also to their tastes is a pleasant step forward in the way we feed our nation’s protectors.