Believe it or not, Miguel Valenzuela built his first robot pancake printer out of LEGO bricks. His three-year-old daughter had interpreted an offhand comment as a promise to build the mythical machine, and rather than let her down, he decided to just go for it.
Six months later, he had his first working prototype, but the machine took two years to refine. “I’d never done anything like it before,” he told us when we stopped by his StoreBound booth at the 2015 International Home + Housewares Show.
His daughters were thrilled with the invention, but the project also garnered interest from outside the family. Valenzuela, who was happy to have a reason to learn more about robotics, kept working to improve his PancakeBot. Soon the LEGO bricks were history, replaced with custom acrylic materials.
The acrylic version was on display at IHHS 2015, printing butterfly-shaped pancakes for an intrigued crowd. However, Valenzuela is still working to improve his design, and was also showing off a new prototype that's currently in the midst of a successful Kickstarter funding campaign. The updated version is faster and quieter, and will have SD card functionality that allows users to download, store, and save pancake designs.
So how does the machine work? First, you download any image you’d like and use custom PancakeBot software to trace an outline. When you’re ready to cook, PancakeBot uses a vacuum and pressure system to squirt batter onto the integrated griddle, drawing lines in the order you traced them. The lines you drew first will cook longer and brown more.
At Valenzuela’s booth, PancakeBot printed only the outlines of the image, and an attendant then squirted colored pancake batter to fill out the interior. There’s lots of room for creativity, which was Valenzuela’s goal in developing the machine. “I wanted to motivate my kids,” he told us. “I wanted to help them understand they could make and create and be inspired.”
There's only one problem: “No thanks,” I said, when Miguel offered me a multicolored butterfly pancake. “It’s too pretty to eat.”
He grinned and sheepishly admitted that sometimes his daughters feel the same way. “They cry when they eat them,” he joked.
The PancakeBot's Kickstarter campaign lasts until April 10, 2015, and backers can secure one of the first PancakeBots for $179. Those preorders are scheduled to ship this July. The final unit will cost $299, and is expected to hit retail sales channels by the end of the year.