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An Interview with Miguel Valenzuela, Inventor, The PancakeBot

When people think of a classic breakfast dish, pancakes probably come close to, if not right at the top of the list. Just recently we discovered a twist on this classic dish—printing. Yes, that’s right, we said printing. So what if you had the ability to print unique designs, on demand, of this quintessential breakfast dish? Miguel Valenzuela does. He invented the Pancake Bot, and this is its story. The transcript of our email interview is below:

1)Tell us the story of how the PancakeBot got started. What is your background/training that allowed you to design this?
PancakeBot started off as an accidental inspiration by my 3 year old daughter. I was reading Make Magazine Volume 2 when my daughter Lily asked me what I was doing. I told her I was reading an article about a person named Adrian Marshall who created a pancake stamping machine out of LEGO for a prototype for his job. Lily turned to her sister Maia and said, 'Papa's going to make a Pancake machine out of LEGO!' and so, when a 3 year old tells you to make a Pancake Machine out of LEGO, you better deliver. 6 Months later we made Mickey Mouse Pancakes and published the video on YouTube. People really liked it and that is what started this all.

2)Are you the only one currently working on its design?
I am the only designer for the project, however Jan Dyre Byrknes developed the interface and Dan Royer from who developed the code for communicating with the robot. Without their help, it would have taken longer to develop.

3)What is your background/training that allowed you to design this?
I've been tinkering and building all my life but what helped me the most was my background in Bio-Resource and Agricultural Engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I learned 3D modeling on my own and that is one of the things that helped me design the chassis.

4)How was the reaction at the Bay Area Maker Faire?
The reaction was positive and at sometimes, overwhelming. Our booth was packed most of the time and we made over 4 gallons of PancakeBatter which amounts to about 500 pancakes of different sizes and shapes.

5)How many versions of the PancakeBot have you designed and what are the key differences between them?
I've designed about 8 different versions, including LEGO. The main difference between them is how the chassis and batter dispensers were built. Beyond that, I can't go into too much detail about them at this time.

6)What prior knowledge, if any, would be required to use a product like the PancakeBot?
To use the LEGO version you would need to know a bit about the programming language for LEGO but not too much. Also, you would need to know how coordinates and vectors work, along with calculating circumferences of gears and wheels. A bit of knowledge of cartesian coordinates helps too.

The new version uses some open source programs and you would need to have a little bit of experience with knowing how to start the program. Other than that, knowing how to make the batter is mainly what you need to know.

7)What can you tell us about the printing process with this machine and it's design (it looks like there is an electric griddle in the middle of it)?
PancakeBot is sized for standard electric griddles so people can choose which griddle to buy. In a nutshell, I developed a special batter dispenser unit that allows for you to draw with the pancake batter onto the griddle. At this point, I can't go into detail of how it works.

8)What ingredients can be used to make meals with it? How long does it take to make/cook a pancake?
The Batter dispenser unit is primarily designed for PancakeBatter but we have used chocolate syrup in it to decorate cakes as an experiment. The time it takes to make a pancake depends on the size of the pancake but it can vary from 30 seconds to several minutes, depending on the detail.

9)Without revealing too much (if possible) what is the short range (3-5 year) plan for your company?
We are currently looking into that right now and I don't have any information for you on that.

10)How close is the PancakeBot to coming fully to market and how much will it cost?
Again, we are still looking into that. There are different markets for different versions and we took it to the Maker Faire in San Mateo to see what peoples reaction was. So far it's been positive so I have lots of work ahead of me.

About William Elward

Founder of Castle Ink, William Elward has 20 years experience in the printer industry. He's been featured on CNN Money, Yahoo, PC World, Computer World, and other top publications and frequently blogs about printers and ink cartridges. He's an expert at diagnosing printer issues and has published guides to fixing common printer issues across the internet. A graduate of Bryant University and Columbia's Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program, he's held various leadership positions at The College Board, Bankrate, Zocdoc, and Everyday Health. Follow him on Twitter at William Elward's Twitter Profile