The fourth industrial revolution has arrived and just in time. Robotics, machine learning and agricultural science have teamed up to create the next generation of vertical farming. This is how we will feed Generation Alpha as they grow into their expected 150 year lifespan. As we as a society switch from a grain-based diet to a plant-based one, I’m excited to see machines once again replace the last vestiges of indentured labor left in our modern world.
Population Growth Unleashed
Feeding 7.5 billion people is world-scale problem. 40% of the earth’s surface area is dedicated to it. There are more than one billion farmers, nearly 13% of the global population, and nobody is making very much money off it. Now add an extra 2.2 billion people to the world in the next three decades and we have ourselves a challenge!
- Bugs and diseases are becoming resistant to bioengineering, GMOs, and pesticides
- The inevitable death of the American farmer
- Rising obesity rates from a grain-based diet
Vertical Farming – The Future of Food
Vertical Farming is this beautifully simple invention that brings the innovation of the modern manufacturing line to farming. This solution has designed out pesticides and the 60 billion pounds of food wasted in open-field farming. From the core ingredients of light, water, and nutrients, we can create beyond organic food to feed the world. No two plants are the identical, but by giving every plant the same ingredients, we can produce nearly identical results.
The fourth industrial revolution brings the industry robotics and machine learning. Drones have driven down the cost and weight of brushless motors. Smartphones have driven the production of incredibly powerful microprocessors. Video game consoles have driven the creation of powerful GPUs that can finally do the processing needed to make machine learning accessible. Tools like TensorFlow and cloud computing are now available to process the millions of datapoints needed to run a farm autonomously. All this innovation means an indoor vertical farm can finally produce leafy greens (like lettuce) for less money than a conventional farm.
All this innovation means an indoor vertical farm can finally produce leafy greens for less money than a conventional farm
When growing any plant, two of the most important factors are monitors and controls. In your home garden, you look at the plants once or twice a day, and if you’re really proactive, you implement a drip line or sprinkler system that consistently waters the plants. Large farms operate on a similar process. Several vertical farming startups are already using computerized controls to manage these systems. I’ve been the most impressed with AeroFarms (in their ability to scale) and Bowery (for their strategy) so far.
If you are interested in leveraging robotics or machine learning to advance vertical farming, let’s collaborate. If you’re running a corporate initiative, the team at Digital Strategies has extensive experience in vertical farming, machine learning, control systems, process optimization, and emerging technology integration. They are standing-by to answer questions and to assist you as you explore ending world hunger, eliminating pesticides, reducing obesity, or whatever else your grand challenge might be.
If you are a hobbyist just interested in more information on Vertical Farming, check out the Association of Vertical Farming and buy yourself a Tower Garden, then start the Coursera class on Machine Learning put out by Stanford, and give me a call!