At a hyper-controlled indoor farm in industrial South San Francisco, four robots named John, Paul, George, and Ringo carefully transfer seedlings from barcoded trays into 15-plus foot towers that are then hung vertically inside a 4,800 sq ft grow room.
Inside the hygienic space, which is operated by the indoor farming company Plenty, there’s no soil, sunlight, or tractors, but rows of hanging crops illuminated by colorful LED lights and carefully monitored by cameras, sensors, and artificial intelligence. Once a tower is ready to be harvested, a balletic automated process reminiscent of a dry cleaner’s conveyor belt begins.
A robot named Garfunkel (a nearby counterpart is called Simon) gently grabs and turns the tower on its side before setting it down to be trimmed by a machine. Workers in navy-branded jumpsuits inspect the greens for any defects, but there are almost none. Then the pesticide-free product is packaged and put on a truck to be delivered to a local market, where the customer becomes the first person to touch it.
“We’re moving into an age where climate change is changing what we grow and how we grow it,” said Nate Storey, Plenty’s co-founder and chief science officer. “Ultimately, I think we’re future-proofing agriculture for our species.”
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