Using Robotics To Film the Perfect Hamburger Shot

It’s no secret that a lot of time, money, and effort goes into photographing and filming all that delicious food you see in advertisements. Mashed potatoes in place of ice cream, carefully arranged ingredients on subs, and perfectly golden french fries are all things you’ve seen so often that they’re taken for granted. But, those are static shots – the food is almost always just sitting on a plate. At most, you might see a chef turning a steak or searing a fillet in a commercial for a restaurant. What takes real skill – both artistic and technical – is assembling a hamburger in mid-air and getting it all in stunning 4k video.

That’s what [Steve Giralt] set out to do, and to accomplish it he had to get creative. Each component of the hamburger was suspended by rubber bands, and an Arduino timed and controlled servo system cut each rubber band just before that ingredient entered the frame. There’s even a 3D printed dual-catapult system to fling the condiments, causing them to collide in the perfect place to land in place on the burger.

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Reverse Engineering the McDonald’s French Fry

McDonald’s is serious about their fries. When they were forced by shifting public opinion (drunkenly swaggering around as it always does) to switch from their beef tallow and cottonseed oil mixture to a vegetable oil mixture; they spent millions to find a solution that retained the taste. How they make the fries is not the worlds most closely guarded secret, but they do have a unique flavor, texture, and appearance which is a product of lots of large scale industrial processes. [J. Kenji López-Alt] decided to reverse engineer the process.

His first problem was of procurement. He could easily buy cooked fries, but he needed the frozen fries from McDonald’s to begin his reverse engineering. McDonald’s refused to sell him uncooked fries, “They just don’t do that,” one employee informed him. He reached out to his audience, and one of them had access to a charlatan. The mountebank made quick work of the McDonald’s employees and soon [J. Kenji] had a few bags of the frozen potato slivers to work with.

What follows next was both entertaining and informative. At one point he actually brought out a Starrett dial caliper to measure the fries; they were 0.25in squares in cross section. Lots of research and experimentation was done to get that texture. For example, McDonald’s fries aren’t just frozen raw potatoes. They are, in fact; blanched, flash fried, frozen and then fried again. Getting this process right was a challenge, but he arrived at similar fries by employing his sous vide cooker.

He then wanted to see if he could come up with a french fry recipe that not only allowed the home chef to make their own McDonald’s fries, but improve on them as well. It gets into some food chemistry here. For example he found that the same effect as blanching could be produced by boiling the fries; if you added vinegar to keep the cell walls from disintegrating.

The article certainly shows how knowledge of the chemistry behind cooking can improve the results.

Sweet 3D Printer

Dylan’s Candy Bar is an upscale sweet shop in Manhattan. In a stunning proof that 3D printing has become buzzword-worthy, they’ve announced a deal with Katjes Magic Candy Factory to bring four 3D gummy printers to the US (specifically, to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami).

The device looks a bit like a classic 3D printer, but it extrudes eight different gummis in a variety of flavors. The store offers twenty designs but you can also print text or your own drawings (including, apparently, your face).

Each creation costs about $20. Time will tell if this is just a stunt, or if we are going to see food printers cropping up at a mall near you. You can see a video they posted to Twitter below along with a video from the product roll out of the printer in question.

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DNA Extraction With A 3D-Printed Centrifuge

[F.Lab] is really worried that we are going to prepare a DNA sample from saliva, dish soap, and rubbing alcohol in their 3D-printed centrifuge and then drink it like a shot. Perhaps they have learned from an horrific experience, perhaps biologists have different dietary requirements. Either way, their centrifuge is really cool. Just don’t drink the result. (Ed note: it’s the rubbing alcohol.)

The centrifuge was designed in Sketch-Up and then 3D printed. They note to take extra care to get high quality 3D prints so that the rotor isn’t out of balance. To get the high speeds needed for the extraction, they use a brushless motor from a quadcopter. This is combined with an Arduino and an ESC. There are full assembly instructions on Thingiverse.

[F.Lab] has some other DIY lab equipment designs, such as this magnetic stirrer. Which we assume you could use to make a shot if you wanted to. However, it’s probably not a good idea to mix lab supplies and food surfaces. Video after the break.

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Endless Pancakes

Sometimes along comes a machine so simple yet so alluring in what it does and how it achieves its aim that you just want one. Doesn’t matter what it does or indeed whether ownership is a practical proposition, you wish you could have one in your possession.

What machine could trigger this reaction, you ask? [Robbie Van Der Walt] and [Christiaan Harmse] have the answer, their machine performs the simple but important task of cooking an endless pancake. A hopper dispenses a layer of pancake batter onto a slowly rotating heated roller that cooks the ribbon of pancake on one side, before it is transferred to another roller that cooks the other side. It seems simple enough yet the simplicity must hide a huge amount of product refinement and probably many miles of lost pancake. Pancakes it seems are a traditional South African delicacy, evidently they must have king-sized appetites to satisfy.

In the video below (Afrikaans, English subtitles) they make an attempt at a world record for the longest ever pancake, though sadly they don’t seem to appear in a Guinness  World Records search so perhaps they didn’t achieve it. Still, their machine is a work of art, and we applaud it. Continue reading “Endless Pancakes”

Biomimicry Challenge: Hack Like Mother Nature, win $100k

Hot on the heels of the 2015 Hackaday prize, with its theme of “Build stuff that matters”, comes another opportunity for hackers to make a difference. But you’ve got to think like Mother Nature for the 2016 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge.

wind chillThe aim of this challenge is to transform the global food system using sustainable approaches that emulate natural process. Entries must address a problem somewhere in the food supply chain, a term that could apply to anything from soil modification to crop optimization to harvest and storage technologies. Indeed, the 2015 winner in the Student category was for a passive refrigeration system to preserve food in undeveloped areas. It’s a clever two-stage system that uses an evaporative cooling loop inspired by the way an elephant’s ears cool the giant beast, and by use of a wind-capturing funnel that mimics how animals as diverse as termites and meerkats cool their nests.

In addition to the Student category, the challenge has an Open category for teams of any composition. Up to 10 teams will be selected from the Open category to proceed to the Accelerator phase, where they’ll receive support for a six to nine month development of their design into a marketable product. The winner will be awarded the $100,000USD Ray of Hope prize, endowed by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

We’d love to see someone from the Hackaday community take home the 2016 prize, and there are plenty of 2015 Hackaday Prize entries that may be eligible. The deadline for submissions is 11 May 2016, so get a team together and get to work.

Hack Your Cat’s Brain to Hunt For Food

This cat feeder project by [Ben Millam] is fascinating. It all started when he read about a possible explanation for why house cats seem to needlessly explore the same areas around the home. One possibility is that the cat is practicing its mobile hunting skills. The cat is sniffing around, hoping to startle its prey and catch something for dinner. Unfortunately, house cats don’t often get to fulfill this primal desire. [Ben] thought about this problem and came up with a very interesting solution. One that involves hacking an electronic cat feeder, and also hacking his cat’s brain.

First thing’s first. Click past the break to take a look at the demo video and watch [Ben’s] cat hunt for prey. Then watch in amazement as the cat carries its bounty back to the cat feeder to exchange it for some real food.

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