Would you eat food grown by robots? To survive the upcoming climate change apocalypse, we will probably need to grow more and more of our food indoors, possibly even underground. The transtion will not be easy, but it will go better if we start now. Fortunately, industrial robots are just getting good enough to handle masive scale hydroponic farming. If we combine our latest technologies such as desalinization of sea water with nano tech, clean power generation from tidal forces and perhaps geothermal graphene taps (or others that still work in a super volcano disaster, with little sunlight at the surface for decades due to the ash) plus a lot of full spectrum LED grow lights, we just might make it.
… The next phase may look like Iron Ox’s robotic hydroponic systems, which are currently growing lettuce in a San Francisco Bay Area warehouse. The goal is for the machines to take over everything from planting to harvesting, tasks with which they currently get human assistance. This way, far fewer workers would be needed to feed entire cities, and instead of millions of acres of cropland we use today, much of our produce could come from vertical farms close to cities, delivering fresher vegetables grown around the clock in a supervised, indoor environment, without pesticides and weed killers. One could almost imagine a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie involving astronauts on Mars and not be far off Iron Ox’s vision.
And there are many advantages to growing food this way instead of planting it in huge fields and hoping nature cooperates. Hydroponics require much less water, the plants are safe from bad weather, drought, and weeds, and sickness or infestations can be quickly found and stopped before they affect sizeable portions of the crops. Decentralizing farms would also make the distribution of produce a lot more efficient because there are no planting seasons, and instead of shipping food across the world, it can just travel in a refrigerated truck for a few hours. You could grow whatever you want, whenever you want, provided you have the space for it and the robots know how to take care of the plant as it’s growing.
Hold on, you might be asking, if hydroponics are so vastly superior to traditional farming and can even be almost entirely automated, why don’t we use them for everything? Well, the number one reason is that industrial sized hydroponics operations would need almost constant power, especially if they’re tended to by robots. Since it’s cheaper to use cropland instead of investing millions into building a giant cube full of specialized machinery, not a lot of companies are doing it right now. But they’ve also never had robots capable of doing intricate tasks as well as humans to offset the cost of maintaining a hydroponic farm, something that could change the financial reasoning behind current farming techniques.
We also know that in the long run, trying to get more and more out of the soil just isn’t financially or environmentally sustainable. Thanks to climate change, many breadbaskets are facing either the threat of water shortages or are already encountering them. As the world keeps getting warmer, new invasive species and pests will find their ways to farms faster than we can design GMOs and pesticides capable fending them off without harming us in the process. From a big picture perspective, one day we’ll have little choice but to start bringing more and more crops indoors, tended by nimble robots supervised by just a small handful of humans. …
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Always in motion is the future. Difficult to see. But there is no try. There is only do, or do not do.