Future Present

Interative Gastronomy

In a recent post Golan Levin writes about how adding the term “computational” to various non-science fields allows you to imagine all sorts of new subjects. Specifically, he “created” Computational Gastronomy, only to realize that the field sort-of actually exists (!), and so started an interesting list of articles and research in the emerging field.

That got me thinking about how we use, or fantasize about using, technology to interact with food — specifically how we order and dispense it. This is by no means an exhaustive list — I wasn’t able to find too many examples — but here are a few that I thought were interesting.


Back in the 90’s it seemed that almost every student of mine wanted to create some an interface for ordering pizza. Today, web apps from Domino’s and Pizza Hut do pretty much everything you need — and avoid the drag-individual-pepperonis-anywhere-you-want problems that many early prototypes seemed to have. The Pizza Hut iPhone app is a bit ridiculous — but who’s to say that pinching-to-enlarge and tilt-to-shift-ingredients don’t appeal to some users.

Domino’s & Pizza Hut websites

Virgin America’s RED in-flight entertainment system (review) lets you order food which is then brought to your seat by a flight attendant. The interface isn’t particularly revolutionary, but the change in flight experience is. No longer are you served en masse — forced to adapt your behavior to that of the crew. Instead you can choose when you want and what you want, and not be disturbed any other time. It’s a great example of how interactive media has created a much improved, more civilized, level of service.

Virgin America’s RED in-flight entertainment system


I’m calling these examples prototypes because, while they’re fully functional, they’re not widely launched systems.

The bells-and-whistles in this Coke vending machine are pretty unnecessary, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some cool (ha ha) things that it can do. (For examples of traditional vending machines, the Wikipedia entry has a wide variety of examples from around the world.)

Microsoft’s Surface Table has been pitched as a way to ordering food and drinks. But, like much about Surface, it hasn’t really caught on. In these two examples, one from Microsoft, the other (for the Kyodai Ken sushi bar) from Phenom, diners can learn more about their options. In Las Vegas there is an installation of several tables in a bar at the Rio hotel.

Surface Demos (left: Microsoft; right: Phenom)

At Inamo, a restaurant in London, they use overhead projectors to display content on the table, and a small touch-pad to control the cursor. I’ve previously written about this Novelty Dining experience.



The food dispensers in 2001: A Space Odyssey have an almost old-fashioned feeling of an automat. The user appears to use buttons to select each item they want. Nothing too complex, but, as a huge fan of the film, they’re still pretty cool.

2001: A Space Odyssey

In the original Star Trek series crew members insert Food Cards into a Food Synthesizer to produce food and beverages. In later series’ (The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space 9) voice commands are given to Food Replicators — eliminating any visible controls.

Star Trek: Food Cards and Food Synthesizer
Star Trek: Food Replicator (left: Voyager; right: Quark’s bar on Deep Space 9)

Continue reading for a last (but not safe for work) example…

This image, from A Clockwork Orange, shows a beverage dispenser at the Korova Milk Bar where milk is served laced with drugs. The design is based on the work of sculptor Allen Jones.

A Clockwork Orange

If you’re interested in seeing the actual food eaten in science fiction scenarios, check out Near Future Laboratory’s post Design Fiction Chronicles: The Stability of Food Futures.