Seniors and other guests attending the Class of '95 pancake breakfast last week really flipped over their flapjacks.
The event marked the public debut of a prototype for an automatic pancake cooker and flipper invented by Ernesto Blanco, adjunct professor of mechanical engineering, and his design partner, Albert Sesona. In addition to being somewhat plumper than the other pancakes cooked on a grill in the usual way, the flapjacks also had an unusual feature-the words "Good Morning" in attractive script baked into the surface.
The Flip-It device used at the pancake breakfast is a smaller manual version of an automatic machine that the inventors hope to market to restaurant chains. It consists of a shallow metal dish into which the cook pours batter. When one side is done, he or she maneuvers another attached dish over the first and inverts the pair, flipping the pancake. The first dish has mirror-image aluminum script in relief to toast in the words. Because of the differing heat distribution, the letters are a darker shade of brown than the surrounding pancake, as well as indented into its surface. Future owners of the machine could purchase several dishes with different words or patterns for customizing their pancakes. "It's very cheap to do," Professor Blanco said.
This manual device would be suitable for homes, but Messrs. Blanco and Sesona have also applied for a patent on a commercial model that would dispense the batter from a self-contained tank, cook three pancakes at once and flip them automatically when triggered by a timer. Everything would be controlled and pre-programmed through a digital touchpad similar to that found on microwave ovens, the inventors explained.
Research and development for the Flip-It has been somewhat lengthy-Messrs. Blanco and Sesona have been working on their idea off and on since 1960. "We don't believe in rushing into anything," Mr. Sesona joked. More recently, students at the Sloan School of Management studied the idea and recommended that the inventors pursue both the manual device for home use and the larger automatic version for commercial applications.
Professor Blanco hopes that a chain like International House of Pancakes or McDonald's will be attracted to the Flip-It because it can go anywhere and doesn't take up grill space, and because it can also be used for omelets. The device could also be coin-operated, which would be useful for cafeterias and other self-service venues-or even Lobdell Food Court in the Student Center. "It's a pretty neat thing," said Rob McBurney of Aramark, general manager of MIT food services, who was on hand for the demonstration.
And how did the seniors rate the Flip-It pancakes? "They realized they were a bit thicker and tastier. The comments were very positive," Professor Blanco said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 21, 1995.