Robots will be the farmers of the future. A company in Japan is building an indoor lettuce farm that will be completely tended by robots and computers. The company, named Spread, expects the factory to open in 2017, and the fully automated farming process could make the lettuce cheaper and better for the environment.
Spread already tends several large indoor farms, which have a multitude of environmental benefits. The plants can be grown hydroponically without exhausting soil resources. Up to 98 percent of Spread’s water will be recycled, and the factory won’t have to spray pesticides, since the pests are outdoors. Artificial lighting means the food supply won’t rely on weather variables, and the lighting can be supplied through renewable energy.
Currently Spread grows about 7.7 million heads of lettuce a year, and sells them at about the same price as regular lettuce. It sounds like the company is hoping to increase its production and lower its prices by making their growing process even more automated.
Right now it’s pretty common for indoor farms to have temperature, humidity, light, and CO2 controlled automatically by a computer. Spread hopes to have the entire process run by robots, from seeding to harvesting. For now, the Wall Street Journal reports that the company is still working on a machine that can plant the seeds, and their process still requires human eyes to determine whether a seedling has sprouted.
Computer vision systems have been trained to recognize different toppings on pizza, so presumably getting a system to see the difference between a baby plant and empty dirt won’t be a show-stopper.
Fast Company reports that Spread’s new factory, which begins construction next year, should cut labor costs by 50 percent, which translates to savings for consumers.
For more on how we’ll grow and consume food in the future, check out the Future Of Food feature in Popular Science‘s October issue.