What The Tech?: MIT Created A Bug-Like Device That Slowly Adds Alcohol To Your Beverage
Where else but MIT would a tiny device that uses science to slowly deliver alcohol into a drink be developed?
Known as the “cocktail boat,” which was inspired by the waterbugs that skim across the water’s surface at ponds, once the device is dropped in a beverage, it slowly releases alcohol as it glides along inside the glass.
The boat—it happens to be edible, so don’t worry about swallowing it—is the result of a collaboration between MIT professor John Bush, who teaches applied mathematics, and celebrity chef José Andrés.
Here’s how it works, as explained by MIT:
About the size of a raisin, the boat is filled with alcohol of a higher proof than the drink in which it floats. The boat steadily releases alcohol through a notch at one end, creating a difference in surface tension that propels it forward. This approach mimics one used by some insects, which release a chemical that drives them toward shore after an accidental fall into water.
The duo paired up to make the boat after Bush attended a science and cooking series at Harvard. He approached Andrés, and the two started talking about the restaurant industry and how they could converge Bush’s ideas and work with “fluid mechanics” to the field.
Lisa Burton and Nadia Cheng, who at the time were studying mechanical engineering in grad school, fabricated silicone molds so the bug-like boats could be made by a 3D printer, according to MIT News. “They filled the molds with various edible materials, such as gelatin and melted candies, and cast them in the shape of small boats. The boats were filled with alcohol, which leaked onto the surface through a notch at the rear of the boat, reducing the surface tension and propelling the boat forward.”
The introduction of alcohol came later, allowing the boats to keep their pace for two minutes before dying down.
Bush and Andrés didn’t stop there, though. They went ahead and designed a second device, fusing culinary arts with the world of science, taking notes from nature’s wildlife; this time, in the form of a flower. With help from Pedro Reis, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering, they made a floral pipette, based on the behavior of water lilies, which when dipped into a glass captures droplets of an alcoholic beverage inside it’s 3D printed pedals, allowing people to enjoy a “small volume of palate-cleansing liquor between courses.”
Both of the inventions, which were published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, are being tested in Andrés company headquarters, ThinkFoodGroup, according to MIT.