The New Science and Technology of Edible Robots and Robotic Food for Humans and Animals

Ordering your pizza and having it delivered in a few minutes by a drone? That could soon be routine. But what about having the drone itself for dessert, instead of sending it back? That would be entirely new technological territory with applications far beyond take-away meals. By combining food science and robotic science in a radically new way, the RoboFood project will for the first time create robots that can be eaten and foods that behave like robots. Such edible robots could deliver lifesaving nutrition to humans in emergency situations; they could supply vaccines and supplements to endangered animal 
species; robotic food with edible actuators and electronics, on the other hand, could tell us when it is well preserved and safe to eat; it could protect itself from excessive heat or humidity during storage; it could facilitate swallowing for neurologic patients, and interact with humans and animals in totally new ways, to address dietary goals or influence eating habits. These goals require an interdisciplinary investigation into the principles of robotics and food science, which have very different and contrasting properties. Traditional robots are inorganic systems that perceive the environment and perform actions. Food instead is mostly organic material that can be digested and metabolized to support life. We will use soft robotic principles and advanced food processing methods to establish a common ground, and pave the way towards a new design space for edible robots and robotic food. We will validate it with proof-of-concept technologies for animal preservation, human rescue, human nutrition. The project is profoundly interdisciplinary, merging two fields that have hardly ever interacted before and pushing them well beyond the state of the art.

RoboFood Project Objectives

The overarching objective of the RoboFood project is to lay the scientific and technological foundations for the development of truly edible robots and robotic food, which can in turn provide novel functionalities and services for human and animal health, society, and the environment. To comprehensively meet these goals, five specific strategic objectives for the project have been defined:
1) Create a library of smart edible materials, which deliver suitable mechano-chemo-electrical transduction properties.
2) Develop manufacturing and processing procedures for edible robots and robotic foods, methods for assessment of physical, nutritional, and preservation properties, and new shelf-life management methods.
3) Create complete edible components including sensors, actuators, energy sources, energy harvesters, control logic and mechanical structures.
4) Develop methods for system integration, packaging, preservation.
5) Integrate the developments above into RoboFood proof-of-concept demonstrators in the context of three core validation scenarios: i) Rescue RoboFood, an edible drone for remote rescue and assistance in disaster situations; ii) RoboFeed for wildlife preservation and welfare in animal farming; iii) RoboFood for humans, for dietary management, healthy nutrition, and treatment of dysphagia.