SPREAD, an agriculture technology company, is creating a massive, automated, indoor vertical farm. The goal: to produce 30,000 heads of lettuce a day using LED lighting and hydroponic technology.
Robots will do much of the work. From growing and producing the crops, to watering to harvesting. “The farm will be as robotically automated as possible,” says Frank Tobe, editor of The Robot Report. For example, cranes will deliver seedlings to small robots, which will then transplant the sprouts to grow beds. The company expects the facility to be operational by mid-2017 and to construct and operate 20 new factories over the next five years. The key to efficiency is the use of automation. Robots do repetitive, tedious tasks usually performed by humans, like constantly rotating containers to get the right amount of sun.
There are many advantages to robotic indoor systems, from the ability to grow food throughout the year, without being affected by weather variations, to a dramatically reduced use of water and lower labor costs. It’s also a more sustainable type of production that has the potential to boost locally grown, fresher produce.
For now, most systems incorporate robots in part of the process, with other machines and human workers taking care of other aspects of production.
Using robotics in indoor farming is complicated. The main problem is the variability of vegetables. Robots must be programmed to be able to grab, remove and transplant things that are not the same shape or size.
Ultimately, robotic experts predict that robotic indoor farming systems won’t replace conventional methods. Instead, they’ll serve as supplements–enhancing agriculture with a more efficient, sustainable and weather-resistant methods