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Robotics

World's First Robotic Farm To Produce 11 Million Heads of Lettuce Per Year (inhabitat.com) 161

MikeChino writes: Japanese company SPREAD is preparing to open the world's first robot-controlled farm. The facility is designed to produce 11 million heads of lettuce each year, and it's expected to ship its first crop in Fall 2017. The new 47,300 square feet Vegetable Factory in Kansai Science City will also reduce construction costs by 25 percent and energy demand by 30 percent.
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World's First Robotic Farm To Produce 11 Million Heads of Lettuce Per Year

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  • But I can't wait for spinach, radishes and beets.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 02, 2016 @02:49PM (#51422731)

      Lettuce wait and see if this pans out.

      • Hmmm.

        So...if this starts becoming predominant in the US, I wonder how many Mexican workers will return home after being displaced by the robots?

        Or, what will happen with them...with these jobs going away? Serious question if robotics starts replacing manual laborers in a very meaningful manner.....

        Will they return home, or will they become a burden on already stretched social safety net programs ?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Interesting isn't it that we increase productivity and instead of people becoming richer, the majority get poorer?

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            Interesting? Well... No? I mean, you weren't expecting the results to be different - where you? If you were, why?

            It's not like countless people haven't pontificated, postulated, prophesied, and pointed. That *is* what you're going to get. There's no way to change it unless you get everyone on board and that includes the people who have accumulated all the assets and all the power. They're not going to give up their happiness today so that your children can have a better tomorrow.

            Don't shoot me, I'm just the

        • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

          It isn't limited to manual laborers strictly speaking. I can easily see coding monkeys being next too although some might argue that they are manual laborers.

          • A huge enough amount of monkeys typing in computers, with no time constraints, will eventually produce all of KDE source code, that will compile on the first run.
        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          So...if this starts becoming predominant in the US, I wonder how many Mexican workers will return home after being displaced by the robots?

          This has already played out in California. The state shifted towards tree nuts years ago because they were easier to automate. Still a bunch of immigration (legal and otherwise), just not agricultural. Plenty of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs not yet automated: hotels, restaurants, construction, and landscaping dominate.

          Eventually all the low-skill jobs will be automated away, but eventually we're all dead.

        • They will need to turn over a new leaf.

        • So...if this starts becoming predominant in the US, I wonder how many Mexican workers will return home after being displaced by the robots?

          None, because if it was viable to remain in Mexico they would not have risked so much coming here in the first place.
          =Smidge=

      • by mspohr ( 589790 )

        Give me a heads-up if you see anything interesting.

    • Old Matsumoto had a farm
      One-zero-one-zero-one!

  • environmental impact (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nick ( 109 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2016 @02:48PM (#51422713) Journal
    Great for water and energy conservation, and this technology can be moved into places that are difficult to grow produce. But if this really catches on, wonder what this will do to the industry as a whole, and the people put out of work.
    • But if this really catches on, wonder what this will do to the industry as a whole, and the people put out of work.

      Then, here in the US, we'll have Mexican robots sneaking into the country ... (sigh) the end is nigh. :-)

    • The same impact as the last 3 centuries. The US used to be composed of mostly farmers and agricultural workers (slaves), something like 90% of the population

      Today, agriculture employs less then 3% of the populace. Now, in absolute terms, the number of farmers has gone up, but the population they support has gone far higher.
    • Agriculture's workforce has been shrinking continuously since the industrial revolution. Even in the late 1800s, 70-80% of the population was involved in agriculture or food production, now that number is less than 2% for first world nations. Not all crops will benefit from this particular innovation so it will remove some people initially, and then as the puzzle is solved for other crops, more and more people. But it won't be a sudden displacement so a lot of the job losses will be in the form of retire

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "It will put people out of work" is never a good reason to reject adoption of a new technology. The fundamental purpose of such tech is to eliminate human labor. It is supposed to put people out of work, and that is exactly why we pay for it!

      The proper response is to adapt our culture and laws to work well in an economic environment that relies on such tech. If we are afraid that a bunch of poor people will be unable to survive (because of this tech), then we should address that problem through better us

      • you could try your hand at rejecting all tech and living as a nomad out in a forest, but I am willing to bet you will get pretty fed up with that lifestyle right away.

        Dude, I'm annoyed just thinking about it!

    • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2016 @03:13PM (#51422933) Journal

      Hunter-gatherer man used to spend 15-20 hours per week per person to collect food. Now 2% of our population are farmers; the rest are busy building information super highways and rocket ships.

      I should start over with this paper [google.com]. I instead started blogging, as I wanted to study more classical and modern economic theory so as to directly assault the field. One of the biggest problems I'm having is dividing the information: I've got a general theory of economic behavior, covering the growth of wealth, the cycle of (un)employment, scarcity, and population growth and restriction; and then I have things like inflation, supply-and-demand theory (mine explains why high-demand goods are cheaper, while low-demand goods are more expensive--this is what subjective theory of value tried to handwave away), and extension theories all the way out to taxes.

      The description of how reduction of labor per good creates a cycle of unemployment and re-employment leading to the production of more goods per person (and thus a higher general standard of living) is *not* in the same class as an explanation of how taxes on labor affect unemployment. My biggest criticism about modern economics is its pathological focus on store prices and stock markets; the base theories I produce may lead to arguments about store prices and unemployment, but they're not about value. I've rejected value as a valid economic concept.

      • >> Now 50% of our population are farmers; another 0.5% are busy building information super highways and rocket ships.

        FTFY
        http://www.globalagriculture.o... [globalagriculture.org]
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        But I'd bet the number of paper-shufflers and bureaucrats is close to double-digits now.

      • by Tomster ( 5075 )

        I've rejected value as a valid economic concept.

        Can you expand on what you mean by this? Also, what are your thoughts on the way we measure GDP?

        • Read Adam Smith's "On the Wealth of Nations" and you'll see a quick explanation of how value is: A) The amount of labor put into a thing; B) The amount of labor purchasing a thing saves the buyer over making it himself (e.g. the seller is more efficient); and C) the amount the buyer is willing to pay. These aren't the same thing; he uses the term "value" without explaining which, continuously invoking an equivocation fallacy.

          Karl Marx does the same thing, positing the value is the amount of labor put in

    • "But if this really catches on, wonder what this will do to the industry as a whole, and the people put out of work" - in the not long distant past, they said the same for computers....
      • And the same thing about paper. Although it's starting to really shift toward paperless, the real reason is that younger generations don't care so much about paper and are already used to read on electronic displays.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Great for water and energy conservation, and this technology can be moved into places that are difficult to grow produce. But if this really catches on, wonder what this will do to the industry as a whole, and the people put out of work.

      Not too much, at least around here only about 2% work in agriculture and they're only in a vague form doing hands-on farm work. Nobody milks a cow or plant seeds by hand or weed the crops anymore, unless it's to sell a specialty product or for tourists and visitors. You have milking machines and feeding machines and huge tractors that you drive around with various tools to plant and spray and harvest. Not to mention what a chicken farm looks like. It's already run as an industry, the product just happens to

  • >> The new 47,300 square feet Vegetable Factory will also reduce construction costs by 25 percent and energy demand by 30 percent.

    Over what? Are you comparing this to "constructing" a field of lettuce from cultivatable land or energy from the sun? Or is this compared to other greenhouse operations? Or hydroponics? (TFA is pretty useless - I tried.)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A piece of land can be harvested once, maybe twice or three times a year depending on the crop. A building, properly setup with hydro can grow much more than any piece of land. They essentially have a 1 acre sized building, which if you were growing out in the sun you'd get 20,000-26,000 heads of lettuce per harvest. So if you're lucky you can get 2 harvests in per year and get maybe 52,000 heads of lettuce.

      Google is better than the article for facts and having a bit of farming knowledge helps too. They

  • Are they recycling/reusing the polystyrene? Is that included in the energy equation?
  • Even considering the savings with LED's, I still have a hard time believing that it's profitable to grow lettuce this way.
    • "Kansai Science City" suggests to me this is as much about investigating it and building the technology as it is about a business model.

      But, I don't think they're ignoring that either:

      Relying on lessons learned from their first farm in Kameoka, SPREAD says their new business model will cut labor costs by 50 percent. The company claims sustainability is at the heart of what they do, and that the new 47,300 square feet Vegetable Factory in Kansai Science City will also reduce construction costs by 25 percent

    • This would be great for Mars. Astronauts land up after a long hard journey and find 30,000 heads of lettuce waiting for them
      • Man.... lettuce for dinner again?

        • by swb ( 14022 )

          Mark Watney's response to that was to sprinkle his potatoes with crushed vicodin.

          Let me try that with lettuce and get back to you.

      • This would be great for Mars. Astronauts land up after a long hard journey and find 30,000 heads of lettuce waiting for them

        All fine and well, but what if one of them is rotten and leads the others in revolt?

        Faster than you can saw "'slaw in a salad", we're talking about a 30,000 head army awaiting out gallant Astronauts.

        Have you considered that? ... I didn't think so!

    • Conventional farming requires massive amounts of land. This lets them go vertical and grow way more in the same square footage. I imagine that's where much of the profit potential lies.

      They are also able to grow in an optimal environment (LEDs tuned to ideal wavelengths, precisely controlled temperature/humidity, etc) which should produce increased yields compared to regular field farming. They are also able to recycle 98% of their water.

      If you can grow (and sell!) 10x the lettuce in the same area, it's e

      • by DogDude ( 805747 )
        I doubt the increased yield can account for the massive infrastructure cost for something like this. Their ROI has to be a few centuries, if ever.
      • by mspohr ( 589790 )

        Ever seen the Imperial Valley? It's where most the lettuce is grown in the US. Flat, fertile fields full of lettuce as far as the eye can see. Warm and sunny most of the year. Lot of Colorado river irrigation water. It's hard to compete with that.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Now all you have to do is ship it to Japan before it rots. 100% doable. However, shipping is a non trivial amount of the cost of food.

        • Then you don't put this system into Colorado. As the AC mentioned, this is being built in Japan, where shipping costs from the USA to Japan, at speeds necessary for freshness, won't sink them.

          Plus Japan has a real problem with an aging population - especially among it's farmers. A lot of land in Japan is going to end up laying fallow because there just isn't any farmers to replace those that die. It's much easier to get employees to help run a robotic farm in/next to a city thought.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          A nuclear reactor and 20 of these around it.

          Nature blows all kinds of ass. It tends to the lowest energy y'know.
          Natural growth isn't even remotely the best the universe can give.

          Aquaponics, aeroponics and hydroponics are so incredibly more efficient on an industrial scale than a local scale.
          Level a few mountains for resources and nutrients to introduce in to the ecosystem and we have a profit of new nutrients for future growth.
          It would easily feed our entire species well in to the double-digit billions if

  • by Barlo_Mung_42 ( 411228 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2016 @03:17PM (#51422973) Homepage

    People can do all kinds of cool stuff with it.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The whole place is run by robots.

  • I love news like this one.

    It may look like an economical disaster now, but this if our future. The way humanity grows, we won't be able to feed the world for another century (if I'm wrong, let's say two centuries then, doesn't matter). There's a lot of confusion about the scientific research of the environmental impact of the food production (especially meat production) but it seems far from negligible.

    I've saw a Swiss design a few years ago about a self-sufficient farm skyscraper design that could produce

    • Of course, we'll need a better energy source than coal or oil if we eventually want to become completely green.

      Coal and oil are both incredibly energy dense. To be self-sustaining, you'll need to use less energy more than you need to find a better power source.

      • by Eloking ( 877834 )

        Of course, we'll need a better energy source than coal or oil if we eventually want to become completely green.

        Coal and oil are both incredibly energy dense. To be self-sustaining, you'll need to use less energy more than you need to find a better power source.

        Human population of growing. So no matter how efficient you become, like recycling you're only delaying the problem.

        Generation IV nuclear fission power plan, nuclear fusion power plant or even space-based solar power are all green alternative that could be available within the century.

        • Doesn't really matter. When you hit your supply limits, you can only increase efficiency.

          Fission is going to become the new oil eventually. It's a limited resource. Hydrogen less so, but no guarantee that we'll be able to do that efficiently on a containable scale.

          • by Eloking ( 877834 )

            Doesn't really matter. When you hit your supply limits, you can only increase efficiency.

            Fission is going to become the new oil eventually. It's a limited resource. Hydrogen less so, but no guarantee that we'll be able to do that efficiently on a containable scale.

            From http://www.ccfe.ac.uk/introduc... [ccfe.ac.uk]

            "Deuterium can be extracted from water and tritium is produced from lithium, which is found in the earth's crust. Fuel supplies will therefore last for millions of years."

          • You're discussing "The Mote In God's Eye" really. I agree with you.
  • Since robots could make a large dent in unskilled farm labor opportunity I wonder if this will be allowed outside Japan? I would think that there would be pushback from labor. There is already looming issues from robot driven trucks, and automation in fast food. Both of those trends will displace workers in growing number in the coming years. The demands for $15/hour wages from fast food workers is creating growing incentives to replace workers with automation.

    Computers already execute most Wall Street

    • If a robot that can do plumbing is invented what will be left for people to do?

      Whatever they want. The machines will take care of their needs. Then they can sit on the front porch, drink iced tea, and talk about the weather, what man was meant to do...

      • by skids ( 119237 )

        I dunno, enjoy each other's company, learn stuff, and deal with emergencies robots don't know how to fix?

  • this is basically the new cotton gin, the mechanical device that reduced labor on the cotton farm and made events like the abolition movement practical. how will it change america's relationship with the migrant farmworker population, and how does that intersect with all the calls to Build A Wall, etc? What happens when you put millions of low skilled laborers out of work? It will be exciting times!

  • Before long there won't be one human being left with a fucking job.

    • As long as we fix the social system then that's something to celebrate.
    • Re:Excellent! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LunaticTippy ( 872397 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2016 @04:54PM (#51423891)
      Maybe not. >90% of jobs today didn't exist a hundred years ago. I have great faith in humanity finding stupid ways to busy itself for money. Once we figure out how to cleanly make cheap power and robots are taking care of necessities we can all live like kings and do stupid stuff for cash. If things keep progressing faster our culture won't be recognizable in another hundred years. We simply can't imagine what people will be like or do with their time.

      It is truly astonishing to think that there are people alive who remember a time before radio, electricity, computers, antibiotics, etc.

      People worried about the cotton gin and so forth, but nobody can argue that conditions were better back then for anybody.
      • We simply can't imagine what people will be like or do with their time.

        Watch YouTube videos, reality TV, sports, listen to canned music, eat fast food... the medium might change (air waves vs. internet), but people won't.

        • Nobody did any of that shit 100 years ago, aside from a tiny fraction of people who watched whatever primitive sports were around back then. Nobody did anything remotely like any of that. Hell, 10 years ago half your list didn't exist.
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Maybe not. >90% of jobs today didn't exist a hundred years ago. I have great faith in humanity finding stupid ways to busy itself for money. Once we figure out how to cleanly make cheap power and robots are taking care of necessities we can all live like kings and do stupid stuff for cash. If things keep progressing faster our culture won't be recognizable in another hundred years. We simply can't imagine what people will be like or do with their time.

        Assuming the reduced costs of living caused by automation exceeds the reduced value of your labor. If you work minimum wage and you're being replaced by a $5/hour robot you lose more than you gain. If you can step up and do something else in demand, great. But if there's an oversupply of burger flippers and taxi drivers who just don't have it in them to become doctors and engineers and automated chefs and self-driving cars are eroding the old jobs you might find yourself cut short.

        Maybe it's easier to see t

      • Once we figure out how to cleanly make cheap power and robots are taking care of necessities we can all live like kings and do stupid stuff for cash.

        That would be true except for the real scourge that plagues humanity: Religion.

        They are all cults intent on command and control; codifying and justifying misogyny and genocide, but also the glory of subsistence living (not for the priests and their acolytes though).

        Especially in the West (the US still the clear leader), the quote "It is Work alone that makes

        • Think about what the US was like even 50 years ago. Xians ran our culture through and through. You couldn't be black, gay, weird, commie, or even dress bad because Jebus. Things are changing so fast. All it will take for the stupid religious BS to die is something quite possible: alien contact, cheap power leading to the end of scarcity, even microbial life on another planet that clearly evolved separately from our planet, who knows what it will be that will make all that stuff seem irrelevant.

          Humans have
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I still think we should keep the jobs for the humans. [theonion.com]

  • by Daniel Matthews ( 4112743 ) on Tuesday February 02, 2016 @04:09PM (#51423467)
    It is simply a crunchy form of mildly flavoured water.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Shredded lettuce. I used to hate that plant until I discovered that it goes well with breaded cutlets (katsu) when shredded.

      In any case, it's still vastly superior to cabbage.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "But what about the electromagnetism? We don't know what effect this will have on the lettuce! We need more testing! And the government should label robotic labor!"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Do we really want to be training robots to harvest heads?

  • Any process that requires repetitive manual labor in a systematic process will and should eventually be replaced by machines. The planting and harvesting of crops is done my human-driven machines already it was inevitable that the human element would be removed all together. Next will be civil and private construction where humans only be involved in the design and coordination phases of the process.
  • Now they can leave those poor whales alone! http://www.newser.com/story/21... [newser.com] http://www.newser.com/story/21... [newser.com]

There is no royal road to geometry. -- Euclid

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