Food production and supply is critical to the development of society, and unlike other developed industries, it holds a much higher purpose. However, we sometimes forget about all of the gritty work and effort that needs to be put in in order to provide for the world.
Historically, the main issue related to food supply was financial; if you had enough money, then you were able to buy food. But in the future, what happens if there isn't any food available to be purchased?
The world has some serious problems in the face of climate change, limited arable land, and population growth. This means that providing enough for everyone might be difficult. Our numbers are growing faster than ever, and our capacity to produce needs to keep up.
Therefore, in order to ensure society's continued progress, we have to learn how to produce more food by using less resources. The answer is efficiency in food production. The better we utilize our resources, the more we can get out of them.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, food production will have to increase by 70% in order to sustain the population's growth in the next 33 years. Lucky for us, technology is seeing unprecedented growth and is revolutionizing many processes.
Robot automation is one of the most promising innovations that can address our food production challenges and ensure that there is enough for everyone. Just like the tractor made it possible to keep the world fed in the 19th century, robots can help us stay fed today.
How Does Food Production Affect Civilization's Growth?
When we take a look back at how food production has dictated the development of society in the past, we can see that each growth spurt is related to an innovation in agriculture. For example, 200,000 years ago when modern man evolved, food was either gathered or hunted, but then agriculture was invented, and by 8000 BC the global population reached close to 10 million.
Further improving the agricultural craft, many rudimentary tools were invented to help the process, and the number of people on this planet grew to 50 million.
Another significant growth stage in human civilization was between 3000 BC and 800 AD, when the global population grew from 50 million to 250 million people. This was a crucial period where agriculture was introduced to some of the less developed parts of the world.
Increasingly more people got involved in the process and more land was being farmed. People started using horses and oxen for certain manual tasks like plowing, which made cultivation more efficient.
It was also the time when fertilizers were first introduced in the form of animal manure. We can quickly relate those innovations to their modern equivalents in the form of the tractor and modern (mined) fertilizers.
During the next thousand years (800 AD – 1800 AD) the population reached one billion due to Asian and African crops being introduced in Europe, and vice versa. This growth spurt was also triggered by the so-called Colombian Exchange, which marked a crops and animal exchange between Europe and America. Livestock like cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens were introduced to the New World, bringing a greater variety in food supply.
Then, the period between 1975 and 1986 marked one of the fastest population growth spurts, when the population rose from four to five billion people in just 11 years.
Add 31 more years, and you reach our current status – a population of seven billion with an expectation to reach 10 billion by 2050. It is obvious that we're at a point where the next food production revolution is necessary.
Food Production Automation
This explanation of how food production influences population growth and consequently society's development serves to show us the importance of innovation in agriculture. Food production automation shows promise to do just that.
Unlike harmful methods for increasing production, such as fertilizers and pesticides, with food production automation, robots that are environmentally friendly and resource efficient are implemented in indoor farms.
In one example, a Japanese company called Spread is automating lettuce production, believing that it will result in an overall yield increase of 25%. Although there will be some tasks performed by workers, robots will do the watering, pruning, and harvesting, which covers most of the production process.
Larger yields are achieved because the lettuce grows 2.5 times faster than normal, with the help of full spectrum LED grow lights and hydroponic irrigation systems, resulting in an all-natural, healthy product.
In addition to robots, drones are also being implemented in agriculture for crop imaging. They are equipped with special multispectral sensors enabling farmers to examine the land from above and gain insightful information for specific parcels, dry spots, and infestations.
There are also other examples that slightly vary from the drone or robot concepts, such as robotic tendrils that can fully automate the cow milking process. This is efficient both in terms of time, but also it is said to increase the production capacity from an average of 28 liters to 36 liters per day due to the increased comfort for the cow during the process.
The great thing about using robots in agriculture is their versatility. They are not limited to a single function and can be implemented on a wholesome production level for all types of produce.
Even harvesting fruit orchards is becoming automated with the help of harvesting robots. This has not been impossible until now due to the fragility of the fruit.
Here is a video demonstrating how the apple-picking robot works:
Finally, automation is promising to do much more than just provide enough food. It is spreading to the whole chain of getting the food to your plate.
There are ambitious projects that involve robots being used to deliver food, but also to prepare delicious meals almost autonomously.
For example, check out this short video from Wired UK showing a robot preparing a tasty meal in order to grasp where the future is going:
All these examples show us that we are getting close to the next necessary agricultural leap. Production, harvesting, and distribution processes are all experiencing automation and robotic improvements, resulting in larger and better yields.
Perhaps a future where we just sit down and the food appears on our plates automatically and without any human involvement is not just a dream after all. New agricultural technology is popping up faster than ever and expanding our food production capabilities.