Food Bots

As I near the end of my year in George Brown College’s Culinary Skills Training program, I can’t help but feel a bittersweet sense of completion, coupled with an exciting anticipation for the future. Not just my personal future, but the future of the food and culinary industries as a whole. One of the many stand-out teachings from the program has been the emphasis on sustainability and consciousness of the environmental and social impacts of farming, eating,  producing and cooking. Thankfully, we live in the age of ‘The Internet of Things’ – meaning that not only are we human beings constantly connected to the World Wide Web, but so are our devices and appliances. In looking for specific examples of innovation relating to the Culinary Industry, I was particularly drawn to the use of robotics in this space. Two examples I had recently read about immediately came to mind: the FarmBot and the Moley Robotic Kitchen. Both products draw on a common technological innovation – advanced robotics. Both products also aim to aid in reducing the human burden on two particular tasks that encompass a huge spectrum of what it takes to feed the World.

The FarmBot, as the name implies, is an ingenious robotic computer which, I believe, will amount to the single greatest advancement in agriculture in recent times. It is able to take a single plot of land up to 1.5m x 3m (for a single FarmBot) and sow, water, fertilize, analyze and harvest any number of plants automatically and intelligently. Not only that, the technology is also Open-Source, which means that FarmBot’s hardware and software guts can be customized and re-worked into infinite variations and would improve with each individual application of the technology. The only thing preventing a massive field of diversified crops which aid each other in growth and development is cost. However, at a reasonable introductory price of US$ 3,100 for the first version of the product, the FarmBot is certainly a viable option for many homes and businesses. If you have the right expertise and access to the necessary tools, you could simply download the Computer Aided Design files and build your own FarmBot. Not only does the FarmBot take care of the specific horticultural needs of the plants, but it can do so using sensors to gauge the moisture content of the soil, instruments to assess weather conditions, and add-ons to take the product off-grid, thereby reducing the operation’s carbon footprint even more. The How Much Food Can FarmBot Grow? page is inspiring in its estimations that 1 FarmBot should theoretically produce all of the veggies needed by 1 person every day! And that’s with a plot that’s only 7 m² and producing 33 different crops. Using a hexagonal packing structure, rather than a cubic one, FarmBot can also increase yields and reduce costs when compared to traditional methods. The mastermind behind this venture is Rory Aronson who, along with his partners,  is hoping for a February 2017 delivery of the first units of the FarmBot — just in time for new Spring gardening. How has it affected me? Well, I’ve always had a bit of a green thumb and my idea of a happy retirement definitely involves a patch of land producing my own favourite vegetables, and providing for a small coterie of farm animals. The FarmBot has made this dream far more attainable and incredibly more enticing! It would also allow a young, inexperience grower, such as myself , with minimal space to take backyard gardening to new places.

 

The Moley Robotic Kitchen is definitely something I had never, ever expected would become a real product available on the mass-market; in my mind, it was just something out of a sci-fi novel or a vision of the future in a 1960’s cartoon. Watching the robot’s two arms in motion as they prepare spaghetti and sauce was simply mind-boggling. It makes me proud to live in this age and to be a part of the greater human ‘mind-mass’ which envisioned such a creation. It is also interesting and reassuring to learn that although the Robotic Kitchen is developed primarily by inventor and engineer Mark Oleynik, the robot’s motions and “culinary skills” are “learned” from the techniques and actions of Master Chef Tim Anderson. This meeting of technological innovation with human vocational skills is the best manifestation of Artificial Intelligence I could imagine. This technology is no different in its reliance on human expertise than surgical robots who conduct routine as well as complex procedures around the world, thus allowing human surgeons to tend to more experimental and cutting edge therapies. I foresee the Robotic Kitchen becoming a matter of fact in every family home within the next 20 years (or sooner) – in fact, I can see them being built into homes from the design phase and setting the stage for even more integration of robots and machines to assist with every day tasks — let alone the applications for individuals with mobility difficulties, seniors, people with degenerative diseases or simply those who do not have the comfort and skill in the kitchen to provide adequately for themselves or their families. Eating well should not be a privilege, nor should it be reserved for those with natural or learned skill in the kitchen. It also inspires me to think about recipes differently. No longer will they be relegated to dusty pages of old recipe books, only to be looked at a few times (if ever) to be replicated at home. With the Robotic Kitchen, one could download a new recipe matching ingredients available in the kitchen’s pantry and fridge and the robot could get to work preparing the meal autonomously!

 

What an exciting time to be alive!

 

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