Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Dishes on Demand

A Media Lab device creates and recycles tableware on the fly.

Two years ago, culinary historian Barbara Wheaton challenged members of Counter Intelligence, a Media Lab research initiative that creates new technologies for domestic spaces, to develop a simple way to make disposable tableware.

The multidisciplinary team of electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and an architect has responded by developing a computer-controlled machine called the DishMaker, which produces plates, bowls, and cups on demand. And the team even went a step further: the dishes are recyclable, so they can be reproduced for the next meal using the same materials. The idea is that machines like the DishMaker could replace dishwashers–and also save space by eliminating the need to store dishes.

The DishMaker was inspired by the growing popularity of rapid prototyping, a method of “printing out” small objects based on computer designs. Leonardo Bonanni, a Media Lab grad student and member of Counter Intelligence, says the method “could one day produce everything we need locally.”

The DishMaker team has fully embraced the “cradle-to-cradle” concept of design and manufacturing. Its approach focuses on the entire life cycle of a product, which ends not in waste, but begins again as a new product. “Rethinking the product life cycle is not only good for the environment, it can lead to products that are more desirable and fulfilling,” Bonanni says.

After several prototype machines, the team constructed a microfactory the size of a dishwasher that forms, dispenses, and recycles plastic dishes. The microfactory comprises commonplace kitchen components, such as electric motors, heating coils, and microswitches, which are controlled by a computer interface with a microwave-style control panel. To recycle the old dishes, the machine heats them up, softening the plastic until the dish becomes a flat disc, ready for its next shaping. The researchers are now working on a DishMaker that will generate dishes of greater quality and variety–possibly with custom shapes and decorative touches–while reducing required energy and time. – By Jack Curtis

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.