On the farms of the future, just where will machines end and man begin? One Japanese company focused on vegetable factories believes they have the answer to that question: The farms of the future won't be inhabited by any humans at all, cyborg or otherwise.
Kyoto-based Spread is so sure of human farmers' eventual obsolescence, they've announced their plan to unveil what they claim will be the world's first fully automated, large-scale lettuce factory by the summer of 2017. Did we forget to mention that they expect to be able to harvest upwards of 30,000 heads of lettuce a day?
That's a hell of a lot of kimchi, if you catch our drift…
If you're imagining row-upon-row of little silver men handling lettuce heads, so are we. But the robots at Spread are said to look more like conveyor belts with arms. The new facility will have lots of advantages over traditional, manned factories of the past. Labor costs will be greatly reduced and a special air-conditioning system and custom LED lighting will also provide savings. The factory will shun pesticides and herbicides and use minimal water by recycling.
Another advantage of using robots? Reduced risk from human contamination. In the factory that Spread is now running in Kameoka, Japan, "any workers that come into physical contact with the lettuce must wear a cleanroom suit and go through an air shower," the Global Marketing Manager of Spread, J.J. Price, explains. But in the new robot-run factory, "the risk of contamination is further reduced since the majority of processes will be fully automated—from raising the seedling to harvest—which will reduce the direct contact the lettuce has with people."
Ah, people. So retro.
Building a robot factor doesn't come cheap, though. Approximately $12.9 million to $16.2 million is being invested in the robot-run facility, but Spread is hoping for sales in the region of $8 million per year. Labor costs are expected to be cut in half, thereby allowing Spread to reduce the cost of the lettuce. "Operation costs have been falling due to advances in technology… The introduction of automation also reduces many of the associated labor costs, so we believe that we are on the right track," Price said.
Spread sees this as the way of the future. Price explains: "For those who dream big, we can see this becoming an important part in space travel and colonization. Our system can fundamentally be built in many different environments and provides a highly efficient method to use resources and produce food."
The future is coming. And a robot would like to make us fleshbags a lovely salad.