Monday, August 1, 2016

Grocery Disruption

Last week, the most interesting development in the Internet of Things and the automation of our lives was not how Microsoft plans to let you control your home through their HoloLens or the coming alliance between The Thread Group and The Open Connectivity Foundation.  It's not even the fear of Russians hacking voting booths.  Instead, it is that FarmBot opened for Pre-orders.

For those of you that have not been following FarmBot, this is a open-source robot with the design goal to grow enough vegetables for one person for a year (assuming a year-round growing cycle).  You can buy a kit or they have the plans to make your own.

So.  It's another thing.  In the already crowded Internet of Things.  Why do I feel that this is more disruptive than anything else that happened last week?  Let me start by asking why do grocery stores, farmers markets, road side orange sellers exist?

Because most of us don't have the time, energy or land to grow these things ourselves.  When we buy fruits and vegetables from a store, we are compensating a bunch of people for their time: the land owner for the use of his (used here with a gender-nonspecific intent) land, the laborers for the use of their time and energy, the distributor for the transportation and logistics from the farm to the store and the store owner for the use of his space and stocking labor.  We do this because there has not, until now,  been an easier way to get what we want when we want it.  FarmBot changes all of that.

Time is Money, Unless it's a Bot's Time

Now, the groceries are in your backyard.  You own the land so there is no need to compensate yourself.  The robot does the work: you pay once for the bot and then some for the maintenance (hopefully not much).  The transportation is from the backyard to the kitchen and does not involve cargo containers, semis and advanced logistics (unless you're asking teenagers to go and do it, then all bets are off).

This is the ultimate goal of the "Local Food" movement: reducing the environmental impact of mass farming and distribution by reducing the distance between farm and table.  Keep in mind, that much of our fresh produce comes from California, a state now in a severe drought.  A lot of the rest comes from international markets.

(Part of) The Solution

FarmBot is not going to offload all of the produce needs for a family.  The original design is around one person's needs for one year, not a household of 2.54.  Also, most of us live in ecologies with limited growing capabilities: either there isn't enough water, the soil isn't right or the growing season is limited.  All of those things are fixable, but they add cost and increase the impact of turning your yard into your produce section.  (The makers of FarmBot even see it with indoor potential and we all know where that's going to go.)

No.  FarmBot is part of the solution.  Grocery stores are still going to exits, but maybe only for non-locally growable produce.  Farmers Markets will still exist, but again for larger bulk of locally grown produce.  Like all of the potential fixes to our modern world's ills, it takes a bit of everything to keep it moving forward.  FarmBot has the potential to help, not fix, but only if we all start using it (or things like it).

And it's got real time monitoring, which is all I really need to know about anything.

No comments:

Post a Comment