A team of Chinese researchers has recently applied for a US patent on 3D printing mashed potato. This application builds on an earlier Chinese patent for 3D printing mashed potatoes. The Jiangnan University team has a wide array of patients between them from the improvement of vegetable paper, to improve the flavor of mushroom paste, to unlocking systems for screen doors, backlight displays, and software testing systems. These three inventors Min Zhang Zhenbin Liu and Chaohui Yang have indeed been very busy one has nine patents for 2018 alone. The 3D printing potato patent goes on to reference a number of other patents that 3D print candy or face masks. Specifically, this patent notes that one adds pectin or xanthan gum to a mashed potato mixture and then you add chocolate.

Blurry image of mashed potato.

Grainy photo of several shapes made with 3D printing chocolate mashed potato.

The chocolate is “the flavor and a shape forming property of the mashed potato are improved by a fragrant and sweet flavor of the chocolate powder and characteristics of melting when heated and freezing in normal temperature; an optimal printing condition is obtained by adjusting different printing parameters, for example, a printing distance, a diameter of a nozzle, printing temperature, a moving speed of the nozzle, and a discharging speed, so that precision of a print object is relatively high.”

So chocolate powder is key to making this 3D printed mashed potato come alive? They go on to, “the white chocolate powder can melt at 30° C. to 36° C. and be quickly solidified in normal temperature. By adjusting the printing temperature, the material can be quickly solidified after being squeezed out, so that the print object keeps its shape well.” In the patent, the team says that a 1.5mm nozzle is best for 3D printing pectin and white chocolate powder mashed potato mixture. The team also did a “large quantity of tests that optimal printing precision is obtained when the moving speed of the nozzle is 25 mm/s to 30 mm/s.” So we’re close to having the ideal settings for chocolate mashed potato. The extrusion speed should be “0.003 cm3/s is to 0.005 cm3/s by researches.” This means that if we wanted to 3D print a 5 gram cookie, it would be best for us to err on the side of patience for now.

What to make of this? I read a lot of patents, and many of the Chinese ones are positively confounding. Often I have to read them, again and again, to know if someone just invented something world-altering or if people are just playing mad libs with technical terms. Chinese patent output is high, but coherence in absolute terms is for non-Chinese very low. When Chinese patents are published or when companies make US patent applications this problem persists. I’ve been to robotics fairs and trade shows in China that really confronted me with the fact that the country is fundamentally innovating at a rapid pace. The cliche copying mentality that many here in still have of China was absent for a lot of people doing fundamentally interesting new work. Language therefore still inhibits us from understanding how innovative China can be and what is really happening over there. To me, in its present state, this patent is a mystery, and I can’t be sure we’ll all be eating white chocolate mashed potato snacks in some distant future? What do you think? How do you think we can help solve language barriers so we can exchange more information?

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