Robots: The farmers of the future?

Lettuce2_blogA Japanese lettuce production business has developed the world’s first farm operated exclusively by robots. The company bases its business model on finding new ways to overcome the challenges of providing food for a growing world population through efficient food production, as well as addressing issues such as shortage of fresh water, extreme weather effects and other food-related concerns.

The company’s lettuce harvesting robots are projected to gather as much as 30,000 heads per day. These cyborgs will not be humanoid, like those in the movies. Rather, the designs for the robots resemble conveyor belts with attachments, which will allow them to plant seeds and water the plants, as well as trim the lettuce after harvest and perform other maintenance for the plants’ growth and health.

“The use of machines and technology has been improving agriculture in this way throughout human history,” J.J. Price, a spokesperson for the farm said in a recent article. “With the introduction of plant factories and their controlled environment, we are now able to provide the ideal environment for the crops.”

Located in the city of Kyoto and referred to as the “vegetable factory,” the company also practices vertical farming, a trend of growing crops in racks that stack on top of each other. In addition, the crops are grown without natural sunlight, relying only on LED lights. Indoor vertical farming also eliminates runoff from pesticides and herbicides — potentially harmful chemicals used in traditional farming – that are not necessary in this environment.

The factory plans to open in 2017, and compared to current indoor farms, is projected to cut labor costs by 50%, energy by 30%, and reuse 98% of the water used for the crops. These reductions are projected to affect the consumer by lowering the market price of lettuce.

“Our mission is to help create a sustainable society where future generations will not have to worry about food security and food safety,” Price said in the article.

With new developments in science and engineering, Price said he hopes this vegetable factory is a foreshadowing of the future and similar robot farms will spread around the world. Utilizing robotics can not only allow for more crops to be produced, but also allow human resources to be used for research and invention to provide for the world’s ever-expanding population.

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