There's no shortage of vending machines filled with strange fare, from live crabs to fresh eggs. But how about one that will make you anything you want? The DreamVendor is a vending machine equipped with four 3D printers to fabricate any object you desire. Located at Virginia Tech University, the device is currently used by students to build prototypes for design projects, so sadly it probably won't satisfy your snack attack.
But 3D food printers do exist, laying down liquified food in ink-like layers. Currently, the technology has mostly been applied to beautifying conventional food into miniature sculptures, a tool for aesthetically-minded precision if your medium is chocolate or cake. Hydrocolloid 'food inks' are in the works, however--just add water, and these edible gels could make all your weird food fantasies come true. Deep-fried, rocketship-shaped scallop, anyone?
Smithsonian's first (and excellent) annual food issue notes how even the tech-savviest of us would often prefer laboratories to stay away from what we eat, but printing food on demand may very well be a viable option for sustainable consumption. Certainly there is no knowledge of the long-term effects of eating printed food, but the method of production could provide during droughts, minimize waste, and bypass negative industrial impact, using less energy and land than traditional agriculture.
So who'd lead the way to adopting the insta-food vending machine of tomorrow? Perhaps Japan. With the highest number of vending machines per capita in the world--one for about every 23 people--it has already pioneered a number of vending machine innovations, like a handcrank for use in case of emergency and a camera that gathers demographic data about you to recommend a drink. On your next vending spree, imagine the possibilities of a 3D printed food, which could come someday to a vending machine near you.