Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Automated Greenhouse

In EPCOT we want on the “Living with the Land” ride. I love that ride. It brought to mind a dream that I have of putting a solar power, automated greenhouse in my backyard. More generally, it makes me think that structures like that should be commonplace in suburbia. On “Living with the Land” you get to go through sections where they are growing all types of plants in greenhouse structures using interesting techniques. Since the last time I went on that ride, students at MIT did a class project where they had robots growing and picking tomatoes. Given the strides in automation, I see no reason why all the things they are doing at EPCOT couldn't be automated as well.

What I'm not certain of is how much food one could produce in the area of a normal suburban yard, or a reasonable fraction of it. I'd be happy to give 50% or more of my yard over to an automated greenhouse. Whoever makes it can not only charge me for software upgrades and possible hardware upgrades, but also for seed packets that I would add every so often. Just hook up electricity and water and pour in seeds then every so often you get fresh fruits and vegetables. At EPCOT they also raise fish because the two can work well together. I'm not certain how viable that is for this application, but it could certainly be a consideration.

Combine this with serious solar panel coverage on every house and you have a situation that is probably fairly sustainable. It would turn the wasteful suburban lifestyle into something much better for the planet. Indeed, for the purposes of energy and food production the suburbs probably come a lot closer to being able to sustain themselves than dense cities can. The primary problem of the suburbs is transit and sprawl. These might not be such a big deal in a future world where more work is done remotely and energy requirements for transport are reduced thanks to lighter weight autonomous vehicles. Indeed, the possibility of growing more food close to where people live might go a fair way to offsetting other elements of transit. I'd have to do some calculations to get a decent estimate of how well this works on the whole. Perhaps that can remain as an exercise for a future blog post.