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Explore future of food in virtual reality at University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas

Did you know that only 20 per cent of the fish we harvest each year actually ends up in our stomachs?

Now Natural Machines is using its Foodini 3D printing technology to create an edible product from offcuts that would otherwise be wasted.

The Future Kitchen VR workshop in the Botanic Garden's classroom. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Future Kitchen VR workshop in the Botanic Garden's classroom. Picture: Keith Heppell

And, in an immersive virtual reality video that you can see at the University of Cambridge’s Festival of Ideas, you can go inside the 3D printer as it operates.

It is one of an extraordinary series of food technology videos released on FoodUnfolded.com, created by an international team involving the university.

Designed to show how food tech can improve the sustainability of our food and transform ways it is produced, the series of videos in the ‘Future Kitchen’ project gives viewers a 360-degree, fully immersive experience that makes them feel like they are part of the story

.Dr Holly T Kristinsson, consultant for innovation and market analysis at Matis and co-ordinator of the Future Kitchen project, says: “We are trying to explore the potential of virtual reality to connect people with food tech more effectively.

“With consumer trust in the food system at an all-time low, we need to step up, reconnect with people and inspire them.”

Another video explores how farmers in Iceland are able to grow tomatoes despite the sub-zero temperatures outside. Viewers get to look around the greenhouses, powered by geothermal or hydropower energy. Bees are brought in to pollinate the tomato plants - and no pesticides are required.

“When we are using the bees, we get something like a 90-95 per cent yield from the plants, which is an enormous increase from a farmer’s point of view,” horticulturalist and biologist Guðríður Helgadóttir tells viewers.

A third video explores Plantcube, an intelligent vertical farming system for the home, created by Agrilution.

The German company was founded by Max Loessl and mechatronics engineer Philipp Wagner to bring the freshest vegetables, salads and herbs to the home, grown without pesticides and as close and to the place of consumption as possible. The Plantcube - which will set you back 2,979 euros - provides an indoor garden for growing lettuce, microgreens and herbs on eight ‘fields’, with automated watering, optimal LED lighting and sensor-based climate control.

Esme Booth with a headset. Picture: Keith Heppell
Esme Booth with a headset. Picture: Keith Heppell

This vertical farming system even notifies you via an app of the perfect time to harvest to your food.

The VR project is funded by EIT Food, Europe’s leading food innovation initiative, and is a response to the need to connect, and reconnect, people with food.

While technology in a food context tends to have negative connotations among the public, the series aims to show how it can be used to improve sustainability.

The makers believe it could act as a pilot for the food industry to help engage consumers as well as entice those interested in food-related careers.

Further videos are coming, which will introduce viewers to future kitchen devices, explore the origin of food, robotics, metabolomics, personalised nutrition, macro and micro algae processing and novel food processing, including how alternative proteins are made.

Regular focus group lunchtime sessions are being held in Cambridge where visitors can view the videos and share their thoughts.

After watching the Foodini video, one University of Cambridge student said: “I never knew how 3D printing food worked, and to be immersed in the whole process is fascinating.”

And at the Festival of Ideas - supported by the Cambridge Independent once more this year - two sessions will be held at the Alison Richard Building on West Road on Saturday October 19 to introduce members of the public to the videos. Bookings open on September 23.

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