Perfect lettuce is grown with help from robots and the Internet of Things
For all Japan’s advancements, it is still common to see older people in the country bending over awkwardly in fields, picking crops by hand – a vision of the past. Twenty miles west of Kyoto, though, stands a smart farm that’s very much a vision of the future.
SPREAD‘s Kameoka Plant grows 21,000 heads of lettuce a day using multistage hydroponics and artificial lighting.
A network of connected devices, the Internet of Things at work under the roof of one slick indoor farm, ensures full control and data analysis of variables like lighting, temperature and humidity, as well as the flow of liquid nutrients.
But, if this smart farming is not smart enough, it will soon get considerably smarter. Before the end of 2017, SPREAD will open the Techno Farm™.
The world’s first robot farm
The company envisages that its super high-tech farm will reduce running costs by around 30 percent. Most impressively, though, it will be run almost entirely by robots.
The new plant in Kizugawa, Kyoto prefecture, will produce 30,000 heads of lettuce per day, which will be tended to by robots that have been brought lettuce seedlings by stacker cranes.
The robots will take care of tasks like trimming and watering, before making sure that fully grown lettuce is harvested and delivered to the factory’s packaging line.
Several countries now have smart farms, but this will be the world’s first robot farm.
SPREAD says it has, “developed the most advanced vegetable production system created by
taking advantage of the cultivation techniques and accumulated know-how with the cooperation of technology equipment manufacturers.”
The company showcased that production system at CeBIT 2017 in Hanover, Germany, last month. The opening of the plant is scheduled for winter 2017.
Is a smart farm an ethical farm?
Despite the obvious cost to jobs in the local area, SPREAD believes its methods will contribute to humanity, as well as, to technological advancement (and not just by giving us more lettuce).
SPREAD claims its mission is to “create a sustainable society where future generations can have peace of mind.”
“By developing a system that can produce high quality food, rich in nutritional value anywhere in the world in a stable way, we will build an infrastructure that can supply food to all people equally and fairly around the globe,” says the company site.
Japan probably has more of a need to develop an automated labor force than most other countries do, given that its population is actually declining. Japanese people famously live long, and a future in which there are not enough younger workers to support older, retired people looms large.
Nevertheless, Spread’s global marketing manager, JJ Price, told the Guardian: “Our new farm could become a model for other farms, but our aim is not to replace human farmers, but to develop a system where humans and machines work together. We want to generate interest in farming, particularly among young people.”
The company hopes eventually to take its technology around the world. Meanwhile, Japanese shoppers can rest assured that even lettuce produced by such a futuristic smart farm will cost the same as lettuce always has.