March 29, 2007

The Semi-Automatic Taco Dispenser

Building the Taco Dream

Anthony and I are both 2nd year MFA students at USC’s School of Cinematic Art’s Interactive Media Program. We bonded over a love of weird and historical places in Los Angeles and food- in particular-tacos. And thats pretty much how came to be.

In one of our interactive design classes we were issued a challenge. Take a 30×12 inch Ikea Cabinet and create something interactive out of it in one week. I toyed around with building a re-creation of the World 1 in Super Mario Bros and a puppet theatre, but decided I needed to inject some taco loving into the project. Thus I decided to make a taco machine.

the crank shaft taco dispenser

The concept is simple. Place your taco on the conveyor belt, turn on the machine, dispense your taco ingredients, and eat away. I sat down with my pops (a mechanical engineer) and talked feasiblity- and we decided it was do-able. I called up a family friend- Frank the Carpenter- and pitched him the idea. We immediately came up with a list of the ingredients and hit up Lowe’s for the parts. This past sunny Sunday- we set out to the build the mofo in my parent’s backyard.

The first task was getting the crank-shaft conveyor belt running. Which wasn’t that hard.

Then we decided to power the belt with a motor. However, we couldn’t get enough torque out of the motor Frank had handy. So we decided to strap on a powerdrill and control it with a light dimmer switch. Worked like a charm.

That baby can pull a cadre of hippopottami. The drill sounds like a jet liner passing overheard- giving the machine a sense of power that no 30 by 12 inch box should have. One’s taco will fire out of the machine like a bat out of hell if you don’t just kiss the dimmer. For a second, I felt like Tim Allen in Home Improvement- giving out a grunt of manliness. Thats the first time in my life that I had ever done that.
I brought the contraption to my department’s weekly seminar, where we had to present our creations. And present I did:

People were feeling the asada my ma and I whipped up. However, it was near impossilbe for the user to get the meat to dispense from the plastic squeeze bottles I designed the machine around. One had to resort to quickly scooping their ingredients onto their tortilla and saving the squeezing for the salsa verde and salsa roja I had stocked at the end of the treadmill. We soon found out, that the power on the treadmill made for great tortilla launching. Still, the tacos were in hot demand.

Overall, the concept was solid, I but failed to take into account the dispensers. The meat simply got plugged up in the tubes. I should figured out the meat dispensary problem out before designing the holding mechanism. A lesson learned, indeed.

The next iteration will be fully automated: where the food will dispense according to the position of the taco. The blue sky idea is to have a custom taco machine- where you can input your taco desire and have it neatly served directly into your mouth. They got automatic sushi machines in Japan.

Its just a matter of time till we get an automatic taco machine. I’m on it.

Me and my Taco Machine.