Hunger is an ugly social menace we would love to see resolved. It looks like MIT researchers may be getting close with their new “Food Computers”. Advanced greenhouses that use software to control for climate, energy, and nutrients, MIT’s new system is designed to produce reliable crops just about anywhere.
Caleb Harper is the director of MIT’s Open Agricultural Initiative, a program he began after witnessing the agricultural devastation surrounding the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster. A food crisis impacted both the locals supply and their economic potential, due to fear of radioactive contamination. He spoke to Motherboard about developing the Food Computer, super-advanced greenhouse hardware and software that uses data analysis to create the perfect environment to grow preferred foods.
The system is equipped with climate controls, grow lights, and humidifiers to encourage the growth of plants through hydroponic and aeroponic systems. Specialized “climate recipes” can be used for specific plants and unique traits, such as colors or sizes, so even the most temperamental crops can be grown anywhere in the world.
“The biggest problem [in agriculture] is that we became way too centralized,” said Harper. When food must travel long distances and sit in warehouses before reaching the stores, and then the consumers, not only are nutrients lost in the process, but a lot of fossil fuels are burned along the way. Harper argues that food computers put the power of growing food in individuals’ and smaller communities’ hands, increasing food security and decreasing food waste.
MIT’s food computers are all open source, so anyone can build one for themselves. They come in three different sizes: a tabletop model, a larger unit about the size of a shipping container, and the largest unit, which is as big as a warehouse. The newest generation of personal food computer costs about $2000. “The reality is most of us don’t have to come into contact with how food is being grown,” argues Harper. With a food computer in every home, that could change.
Images via MIT