What is a Personal Food Computer?
The word "food computer" is an odd discongruity of ideas — is there anything as far from a computer as food? It initially reads like something you might mount on the wall in your kitchen to store recipes, but the reality is more interesting.
A personal food computer (PFC) is a climate-controlled box that grows food. The personal food computer (as opposed to larger food servers and food datacenters) are only a little bit larger than your desktop PC. Created by Caleb Harper, the PFC is said to have several benefits to the food computer over other forms of robotic and vertical farming:
- Making nutritious food accessible on a local scale.
- Engaging people in the fading art of farming.
- Growing any type of food, regardless of local climate.
- Recording climate and condition data to create downloadable "recipes" for plant growth.
- Enabling anyone to build and develop their own PFC by making the project open-source.
The PFC isn’t in our only foray into robotic farming — the field is quickly advancing in an attempt to make agriculture more sustainable while continuing to meet the needs of a growing population. But unlike autonomous tractors or larger vertical farming centers, the PFC takes the concept of robotic computing and makes it accessible to students and average households.
A Few More Details About the PFC
These computers are hydroponic, and use the attached computer to control farmer-managed settings:
- CO2 level
- Nutrient level
- Other atmospheric conditions
All of these factors are combined into a "climate recipe" that is uploaded to a network, and can be downloaded by other data-driven farmers to recreate the exact conditions to recreate the exact same growing conditions.
The system has some limitations: you can’t grow anything that’s going to get taller than four feet, and they’re not yet quite affordable enough for your average household. The eventual goal, however, is to get them efficient and affordable enough that any person could buy a kit and start growing food in their own home. The whole project is open-source: you can get all the data you need to build your own PFC via GitHub.
It’s all very interesting, and is a rabbit hole you could go down for hours in trying to find out how truly sustainable and scalable to the project is. But I came at it with one question: with access to food leaving so much of the globe in peril, where could these computers do the most good?