Flippin' Brilliant! Pancakes don't get Batter than this!
Everyone’s talking about 3D printing and the future of desktop machines in the home creating everything from on-demand kitchen utensils, one-off wedding shoes and even replacement human tissue.
So here at Kinneir Dufort, we decided to challenge our rapid prototyping and technology team to develop an interactive eating experience that takes the humble pancake into the 21st century.
Combining CNC (Computer Numerical Control) technology with embedded face recognition and tracking software, the system dispenses layers of batter directly onto a hot plate allowing the creation of detailed and complex images within the pancake surfaces. As the conventional pancake batter is applied it immediately starts to cook and change colour and as subsequent layers are added the different tonal qualities of the image build up.
Achieving the perfect result is a delicate balance between batter viscosity, speed of application and maintaining the correct temperature on the plate. As Prototyping Director, Ian Hollister, explains, “The real challenge was to create a program that enables the picture to be completed from start to finish within the exact timescale for the overall pancake to cook. Too little time and the darker tones wouldn’t be achieved, too long and the pancake would burn”.
Once the prototype was built and programmed it became a relatively simple process, but the really clever bit is the conversion of brightness from the face image into layered X-Y data that Kinneir Dufort has incorporated into the design.
“Even though the first results we achieved with abstract patterns were exciting, we wanted to go a step further and create a unique dining experience that really involved the consumer”, says Bic Bicknell who heads the Brand and Packaging team. “It didn’t take us too long before starting to ponder whether it would be possible to create a portrait from a photograph and instantly turn it into a delicious pancake”.
“We brought in our technology centre and tasked them with this tough assignment. It’s one of the advantages we have here – to integrate technology and engineering skills to solve some of the many challenges brands face”.
Senior Electronic Designer, James Torbett, was on the case, “The technology uses a digital camera combined with image processing libraries to perform face tracking and extraction. Our bespoke software turns this into contours for the batter dispenser. The darkest areas are deposited first, through four distinct shades to the lightest areas”.
The applications are exciting and varied. Imagine a camera capturing a portrait of the diner on arrival at a restaurant as they order their pancake. As they’re selecting one of a variety of flavours and toppings the software converts the picture first into a set of outlines and layers and then into data suitable for the CNC batter printer.
The whole process is completed in less than five minutes and delivers a truly enjoyable, and certainly entertaining, experience. It is a lot of fun for children and adults alike but the real dilemma is deciding which bit of you to eat first!