Peter Thiel is cooking up some weird beef.
The famed co-founder of PayPal--he also sits on Facebook's board--who’s known for his wacky investments, has plowed at least $250,000 into Modern Meadow, a startup that seeks to produce 3D bioprinted cuts of meat for human consumption.
That’s right, if doctors can use regenerative technology to create medical-grade implants, why can’t Silicon Valley use it to serve up a slab of USDA-grade sirloin?
CNET pulled the startup’s submission to the Department of Agriculture’s small business grant program. The document is sprinkled with details on the company’s short-term plan to create a sliver of synthetic meat that's less than one inch long. Peter Luger is safe for now.
Thiel's fund is pitching the company as a small step forward in saving the planet. Printed meat is "an economic and compassionate solution to a global problem," Lindy Fishburne, executive director of Breakout Labs, a project of the Thiel Foundation, said in a statement.
In true “I’m-not-doing-this-just-to-get-rich speak,” Modern Meadow co-founder Andras Forgacs told CNET that “if you look at the resource intensity of everything that goes into a hamburger, it is an environmental train wreck.”
According to a recent NPR study, one quarter-pound burger takes 6.7 pounds of grain, 52.8 gallons water, 74.5 square feet of land and 1,036 British Thermal Units of fossil fuel. So thanks America, for withholding energy from an entire city block in South London at your last July 4th barbecue.
Producing meat "in-vitro" is far less damaging. According to this piece in the Guardian, making meat in the lab "results in a 96% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to rearing animals, and uses 45% of the energy, 1% of the land and 4% of the water associated with conventional beef production."
Thiel’s money is specifically coming from an arm of his philanthropic foundation, Breakout Labs, which gives grants to companies that pursue “radical goals” in science and technology. As CNET noted, 3D printing of meat has long been a staple of science fiction, appearing in classics like William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer.
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Manufacturing company Suzumo dreamed up SushiBot, which can <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=H8fTrbknOB4" target="_hplink">pump out up to 3,600 pieces an hour</a> or 300 rolls in the same time.
"Let's Pizza" Vending Machine
Pizza from a vending machine? It's no work of fiction -- this invention by Italian inventor Claudio Torghel has been serving Europeans for the last three years. Now, it's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/pizza-vending-machine-lets-pizza_n_1593115.html" target="_hplink">headed to the U.S.</a> It's technically not a robot, but the whole no-humans-involved aspect is just as creepy.
Rheon Encrusting Machine
Ever wonder how your empanada got its filling? The Rheon encrusting machine may be to thank -- it's patented to stuff foods inside other foods, and fast. A factory plant outfitted with the Rheon contraptions can <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/rheon-encrusting-machine_n_1599832.html?utm_hp_ref=food" target="_hplink">pump out 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of a particular product an hour</a>.
The Chief Cook Robot
This little chef needed some teaching, but he quickly got the hang of things. Watch him whip up a <a href="http://www.gearfuse.com/robot-chef-renders-real-chefs-obsolete/" target="_hplink">ham and cheese omelette</a>.
Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dish of savory pancakes, and this guy -- a Motoman SDA-10 robot -- has been trained to make them. Good thing it has <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/24/dining/24robots.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1&ref=technology" target="_hplink">spatulas for arms</a>.
What better way to take all the joy and emotion out of cake decorating than have a robot do it? To be fair, an actual human being has to create the original design, so the creepy factor is much lower with this robot.
Here's a thesis for you: Two Chinese university students created a wok robot capable of <a href="http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2010-04/students-invent-robot-cooks-600-chinese-dishes" target="_hplink">cooking 600 classic Chinese dishes</a>.
Yes, a robot that makes burritos. Wasn't it always inevitable? New York University student Marko Manriquez <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/marko-manriquez-designs-burrito-bot_n_1594138.html" target="_hplink">designed his Burritob0t </a>for a thesis project as part of the school's Interactive Telecommunications Program. <em>Photo by Flickr user marko.manriquez</em>
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Your next <a href="http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2012/05/robot-made-coffee-from-a-kiosk.html" target="_hplink">barista may just be a robot</a>. That's already the case for some students at U.T. Austin, who order coffee from a mechanized kiosk installed on campus.
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Automatic Chicken Breast Deboning Robot
This Japanese robot can <a href="http://eater.com/archives/2011/06/24/japanese-robot-debones-1500-chickens-per-hour.php" target="_hplink">debone 1,500 chickens an hour</a> -- ten times faster than any human. It costs a pretty penny, clocking in at $560,000 a machine.
This robot bartender can't actually pour you a drinks, but can <a href="http://eater.com/archives/2012/04/27/heres-a-robot-that-grabs-drinks-at-your-command.php" target="_hplink">take your order and bring it to you</a>. We're pretty sure it can't listen to you spin a tale of your sorrows, either.
Why turn your wheels of Gruyère when a <a href="http://boingboing.net/2012/06/15/cheese-flipping-robot-patientl.html" target="_hplink">robot can do it instead</a>?