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Food Computers

This a review of a TED talk given by Caleb Harper about the technology he’s working on. He calls it the “Food Computer”. The Food Computer is a piece of technology that allows us as humans to micromanage the growing of our food. He call’s it, “Democratizing Climate”. By using these food computers, we will be able to control the environment where our food grows so long as we have access to a food computer. With this technology, we could be in Texas and simulate growing California strawberries by mimicking the environment. This is done through various gauges and sensors. Take a look at the image below to see a food computer:

Food Computer

It looks like a regular computer almost, except this food computer grows food. Now only does it grow food, it grows food quickly and efficiently. It uses 98% less water than a traditionally grown plant and it even grows faster! This is a huge advantage but I must point out one quick issue. Food computers are difficult to make. If you are curious at how what I mean, take a look at the video here to see just how much it takes to build this machine. How to Build a Food Computer.

Despite the fact that they’re hard to build, I would say that the real advantage of these food computers is that they are scalable and extremely efficient. They’ve actually modeled different types of food computers that can be used in different scenarios. Such as a food warehouse. This is a picture of a food server:

Food Server

This machine is capable enabling small scale producers to provide food (i.e. A school cafeteria or local restaurant). It’s exciting to see this kind of tech because I can now see that food in the future may become more accessible and fresh to us, the consumer. Again, there is one large downside to this food server. It’s expensive. Currently, it costs 100K! I won’t be installing one of these in my basement anytime soon.

One other large feature that Caleb talks about is the ability to assign each and every plant an IP address. What this means is that each plant is individually monitored by the computer through various sensors. Through a GUI interface, us as users can actually ensure each plant is healthy and if it’s not, we can take corrective measure to ensure it gets the nutrients it needs. Take a look at this image to see an example of the GUI interface:

Food Computer GUI

One last thing that I want to point out is that this is all open source! You can see the repo here.

Lastly, I’d like to stress the importance of this project. Yes food computers are expensive right now and yes they’re hard to make, but think about what this will do for food. Imagine a world where our restaurants grow the food they serve. Imagine a world where each home has the ability to supplement their groceries with fresh produce grown from a food computer in the basement. Imagine farms being replaced with food computer warehouses that consume 98% less water and grow food more efficiently. This is huge and I believe this video provides a glimpse into the future of where agriculture is going.

If you want to watch the video, check it out below: