When I wrote about robots months ago, it didn’t occur to me that robots could be used to grow our food. And if it had, I probably wouldn’t have thought they would be doing it so soon. Ah, but they are! I guess Todd is right: the future is now.

Thanks to Wired, I give you OrganiTech:

Tens of thousands of empty storage containers are stacked in towers along I-95 across from the harbor in Newark, New Jersey. They’re heaped there in perpetuity, too cheap to be shipped back to Asia but too expensive to melt down.

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Where many might see a pile of garbage, Lior Hessel sees, of all things, an organic farm. Those storage containers would be ideal housing for miniature farms, he believes, stacked one upon another like an agricultural skyscraper, all growing fresh organic produce for millions of wealthy consumers. And since the crops would be grown with artificial lighting, servers, sensors and robots, the cost of labor would consist of a single computer technician’s salary.

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OrganiTech can supply a complete set of robotic equipment plus greenhouse for $2 million. A system the size of a tennis court can produce 145,000 bags of lettuce leaves per year — that’s a yield similar to a 100-acre traditional farm. According to the company, it costs 27 cents to produce a single head of lettuce with its system, compared to about 18 cents per head of lettuce grown in California fields. Factor in the transportation costs and suddenly the automated greenhouse grower saves as much as 43 cents a head.

According to the OrganiTech website, here are some of the other “advantages” of their GrowTECH 2000 system:

  • Water-efficient.
  • Environment-friendly technology.
  • Eliminates weather- and climate-related risks.
  • Ability to locate anywhere, minimizing distribution costs.
  • Hydroponic technology, no herbicides or pesticides.
  • Space efficiency — the integrated machines are stackable.
  • Labor costs are reduced to near zero.
  • Glatt-kosher standard, no insects or worms present.
  • Optimum growth conditions resulting in short growing cycle / high productivity.
  • Clean, safe and ready-to-eat produce.
  • Steady production cost year-round.

And the company claims that, depending on what fertilizers are used, produce grown in this manner could qualify for organic certification. They also say their systems can work anywhere from Alaska to the Sahara. Damn!

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Whether this idea freaks you out or intrigues you, I suggest watching the company video before arriving at any final conclusions. Then feel free to report back and let us know what you think.