3-D printers can "print" a variety of objects, from tools to toys, and now a renown aging expert says they might one day manufacture food for Grandpa and Grandma, enabling them to remain home longer and safely.
Writing in MartketWatch, Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicts that the future of 3-D printing might someday change the way we prepare our food. He labels the possibilities as "a new Industrial Revolution." And just as a single manufacturing printer might build a car, one printer at home might fabricate everyday products, changing the retail store concept and disrupting the logistics supply chain.
So why not use them to prepare food at home? "While 3-D printers have been around in some form or another for decades," he writes, "the idea of printers-as-cooking-appliances is very recent, one that's only begun to be explored in the last two years by innovators ranging from NASA scientists to techno-modernist chefs."
This sci-fi wizardry may be particularly helpful for older adults and caregivers. "Because the technology would be so easy to use and wouldn't involve an open flame or burner," he adds, "someone whose cognitive skills are declining could still use a 3-D printer to cook her meals safely. An adult child caregiver could send a command to the printer remotely via smartphone to ensure that their father that lives alone has a hot balanced dinner."
He concedes that 3-D printing might not provide the social contact of a Meals-on-Wheels volunteer, but it might help with the program's shortage of drivers. He also envisions a doctor or nutritionist designing "a diet for an older adult that provides nutrients in precise quantities using 3-D printable recipes."
The 3-D printer is not the only tech many hope will allow an aging population to remain at home longer. Coughlin envisions driverless cars for older adults who can no longer driver and smart homes that will help pinpoint healthy behaviors while predicting when and where seniors are likely to fall.
"The 3-D printing of food," he concludes, "would be an enormous leap forward from these steps toward greater convenience and personalization in the kitchen. It may fundamentally change the relationship that we have with our food. And with any luck, and considerable improvement in the type of foods that can be printed, it will be part of a suite of technologies that will make our lives better in retirement."