Design Probes

Far-future research dialogue by Philips Design

The 3 Food related probe ‘provocations’ come out of work we have been doing on the future of food over the last year or so. When we start a project like this we don’t work with a specific brief – we define a terrain and form a pretty diverse team that looks at everything interesting in the field. We are generally less interested in design and technology trends at this stage and very sensitive to political, economic and environmental turbulence. The Habitat probe that we had worked on a few years back had explored ways of recycling water and waste which had taken us into the area of bacterial energy and root plant filtration. When we started looking at food production around the world we asked the question whether filtering plants could be a source of nutrition and energy as well. At the time there were newspaper reports about food riots in Senegal, Egypt and Haiti and even accounts of Italian mothers assaulting shopkeepers with handbags over the dramatic rise in the price of pasta. Looking into the economics and politics of rising food prices and theories about impending food shortages led us to create the “food farm” to test peoples sensitivity to the issue. We wanted to develop something initially that would supplement the nutritional needs of a family living in high rise accommodation, without drawing electricity or gas.

The ‘’diagnostic kitchen’’ concept is a response to the global diet business and obsession with calories and fat free food. We responded to the “weak signal” that in the 30 years of fat-free food marketing in the US, the obesity level had soared. Creating tools that enable people to manage a healthy lifestyle based on the specific metabolic profile of individuals rather than generic standards seems essential. We also wanted to ask the question whether the kitchen, as an assembly of labour-saving devices which emerged in the 1920’s, will will be transformed into a collection of diagnostic and diet management tools in keeping with our lifestyle needs. Knowing what a food ingredient contains, where it came from and what it has been exposed to is more important than how likely it is to stick to the pan.

The food printer provocation emerged in reaction to the culinary changes brought about by by so called “molecular gastronomy”. Turning “process” – historically associated with inferior, synthetic and economical – into gastronomic high art was very thought provoking. The tools that have been taken out of the scientific laboratory and developed in the kitchens of great chefs and artists like Feran Adria, Juan Mari Arzak and Heston Blumenthal (to name a few) facilitate a culinary revolution that is in its infancy. Our probe looks at combining the technology of stereolithography with the deconstructive and transformative techniques developed in this new artform. We wanted to test reaction to the idea of a kitchen tool enabling you to “create” a dish based on textures, forms, flavours and densities in addition to selection of ingredients. Some of the functionality we don’t want to go into just yet and will be exolained later when we show the fourth probe looking at the multi-sensoriality of gastronomic experience.

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Comment by Pieter Jan Rosiers on August 27, 2009 at 9:13pm
I love the idea of the home farming and the monitoring of your own health levels,
but I look in horror at the food printer. It would be an amazing concept to introduce in third world-and hunger countries, but I think, in the western world, that it just would turn out to be some oddity which you can use to create the most horrible crap food there is. I still believe in the farming and growing of food, not in printing it.

But i really love the other two concepts and would certainly buy them if they would be for sale.
Comment by Daniel Oeyen on September 11, 2009 at 1:28pm
If I'm right, I think that the idea of the food printer must just be seen as just a new way of preparing food. Such as steaming, frying, boiling, etc. It seems to me that it is so far just something meant to make little beautifully shaped appetizers or desserts on special occasions. Certainly not for daily and only food source, and certainly not as a solution in hunger countries. That would be the same as eating fast food on a daily base and everyone knows that is a bad idea.

On the other hand it seems as if the tone is set to develop something as the Food Replicator in Star Trek. Where the actual food printer seems to be the early "low res dot matrix" version in comparison. But that could quickly change in the (near) future, and that seems a bit scary to me.
Comment by Clive van Heerden on September 11, 2009 at 2:01pm
There are a lot of research explorations at the moment into growing meat ( and even using stereo-lithography to "print" sugar ( - what is interesting is how we have seen "processed food" which was associated with synthetic, industrial non natural food ingredient abuse from the 1950's to the present start to become high art in the hands of chefs like Ferran Adria. The food printing solution we have presented in the food probe is based on this new approach to 'processing' which respects the integrity of ingredients even when transforming them into new textures and shapes.

The Biosphere food farm is designed to address the problem of food shartages and rising food prices, as well as giving consumers a greater level of control over how their food is produced, while providing everyday nutrition. The printer is designed to facilitate food creation using some of the techniques and chemical ingredients pioneered by contemporary cutting edge chefs and not solve the problem of food scarcity.
Comment by amar sylvie on September 12, 2009 at 5:47pm
beautiful summary of what we will wait from the next years !!!
Comment by Stéphanie Griffiths on September 18, 2009 at 3:50pm
Great work and very interesting blog. I love the idea of exploring the multi-sensoriality of a gastronomic experience. When are you going to be able to share more thoughts?
Philips could open some Gastronomic Museum where all the senses are fulfilled
Nowadays you have museums on everything but nowhere you can taste/smell/see/touch and imagine what was the food across different centuries/ is very difficult to find truly interactive museums and by playing on all our senses that would be the case. At the end of the visit I could see myself playing with a food printer!
Comment by Clive van Heerden on September 21, 2009 at 12:59am
Thats a great idea Stephanie. About 15 years ago BT had an exhibition in London called dialogue in the dark where you were imersed in total darklenss for an hour - which seriously tweaked the senses - but there arent any éxperiential museums that I know of that. There is a kids museum in New Jersey with a giant interactive model of a digestive system where kids can push buttons to release clouds of noxious gas accompanied with loud flatulence sound - they go nuts for it. Coming back to gastronomy I think its a great idea and you should pursue it.
Comment by Stéphanie Griffiths on September 21, 2009 at 10:52pm
I guess my kids would go nuts too...Happy to have a gastronomic talk if you happen to attend the london design festival. Online communities are great but meeting people is even better.
On senses- In Paris few years ago a restaurant was launched where waiters were blind and food served in the dark Use your senses in a different way or privilege only one sense can also be a great adventure
- On environment (not sure if you are involved in research around the theme?)
I am interested in opportunities to link aerospace (think satellites’ images for instance) and climate change.
There is a lot of hype around reducing carbon emissions and engaging with the general public, nevertheless we miss serious monitoring tools to explain what is really happening to avoid patronising “green washing”.
By packaging differently their offer satellite makers could be an answer to monitoring deforestation, track water doing so they could reach different clients (think about 10:10 or Prince Charles charities) or create different business models (mining companies need water and with the help of satellite could locate sources and help local communities with cultivating for instance)
Within Philips' EcoVision programme could we think about a "Philips satellite" to help monitoring climate change????
PS: I am from Toulouse (south of France) where Aerospace and Aviation are second nature (as well as rugby & good food but that is another story).
Comment by Mademoiselle Sophie on October 8, 2009 at 11:41am
As usual, Clive's team seems to be keen on pushing boundaries and blocks we create for our own thinking processes. Which is why the first comment of this thread, that goes very well with the ‘provocations’ probes. I think that what makes these probes really interesting: at first, of course they entice us to imagine what our life would be like if we were to use these conceptual products. But to me, the real challenge and excitement comes when it forces us to reconsider our own mental blocks or ideologies, beliefs, and other narrowness.. What i found interesting about the food printing, is that, if many of us reading this blog probably read the labels of foods we buy and consume, and probably cook a fair amount (in which case one is very likely to know what goes in the meal!), maybe it is still not the general approach to feeding oneself. The printing device would definitely help. I like the playful aspect of it too: i could definitely imagine a kid becoming pretty much exited to eat a crazy broccoli and brussels sprout sculpture, kept together with some omega 3 concentrate of some kind!! Besides, the first part of the "digital lives" era, evolves around including more and more digital aspects and interactions in our lives. But there is/was still a gap between the digital and the analogue lives of people who then tended to run two parallel lives at once. Now, we are evolving towards the part II of the digital era, where analogue and digital seamlessly merge together. The food printer is a great example of that as the food takes place in the mind, on a digital platform and concretize in the analogue world, to end in one's mouth and stomach! This is just great!

I cannot wait for the sensorial food experience probe to come. It already makes me think of the lollypops that create images in our brain (EYECANDY).

Finally, just a note on the food monitoring probe: it - somewhat - reminds me of Frog design's AURA concept.
Comment by Robbert van Leeuwen on December 10, 2009 at 3:09pm
Dear Clive,

As I student of the Technical University of Delft (Netherlands) I'm taking a course on Sustainable technology. At the moment we are working in teams for a design assignment for IDEO. For this, we need to get into contact with experts to get some reflections and thoughts on some subjects and our work. Therefore, we would really like to have your help/thoughts on the printing of food.

If you read this and if you are willing to help us (or just want to hear some more information from our side), please contact me.

With kind regards,
Robbert van Leeuwen
Comment by Clive van Heerden on December 10, 2009 at 4:05pm
What kind of help do you need?


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