Can a ‘food computer’ prevent us from running out of farmland?


MIT research scientist Caleb Harper wants to build a real-life “Farmville.”

He had taken a first crack at experimental agriculture following a visit to Japan shortly after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, where he saw that people were afraid to eat the locally grown food. He wondered if there were ways to reproduce its growing conditions elsewhere.

Unfortunately, he admits in a video, he experimented and “killed everything.”

So his next move was to enlist students to join OpenAG, an MIT Media Lab initiative that works to develop an “open-source ecosystem” for farming technology to address global food security.

What does that mean, exactly? Harper’s signature project is the food computer, which uses robotic systems to create controlled environment for plant growth.

Each set of conditions created within the food computer can be saved as a “climate recipe” for future reproduction anywhere in the world.

Harper describes this as “taking a greenhouse and putting a computer on the side.” The research points to a future where people all over world can replicate production more efficiently.

This will be more important in coming years as we face both population increases and longer food supply chains, Harper says.

With this type of technology, people could grow better local quality food.

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