How robotics is accelerating vertical farming

Vertical farms allow you to increase crop production in a sustainable and efficient way. Robotic technology and artificial intelligence are key in this process, optimizing everything from monitoring and sowing to harvest. The adoption of robotics in vertical farming will continue to grow as it can solve most challenges and improve the entire crop growth cycle.

The urban phenomenon of vertical farms finds in robotics the perfect ally to optimize the process of development and care of crops.

The search for a healthier diet and much more sustainable production systems suitable for cities has led to a growing phenomenon: that of vertical farms.

These are indoor environments where every facet of the climate is controlled, so vertical farmers can increase the production of their crops without losing a high percentage of the product due to environmental damage or pests. But in addition, these hydroponic systems have also proven to be more efficient in the use of water while reducing food waste and boosting their production. 

The technologies are collaborating in the entire cultivation process in this type of vertical farms. The most avant-garde are equipped with microsensors designed to capture humidity, temperature, growth rates and water flow from all growing trays. These data are then correlated with water, tray rotation, planting, and lighting spectrum. The data obtained is used to optimize the operation of the entire farm.

Cloud, machine learning, and the Internet of Things are core technologies in this whole process, but they are above all It is advances in robotic technology that are providing solutions to the problems that vertical farmers are currently experiencing. 

These technologies are more beneficial than other forms of automation because the robots don't need to be fixed in a specific location, which means they can move around the farm as needed. Additionally, numerous actions can be performed by a single robot, have more than one articulation axis (ensuring better control), and can be programmed to adapt to its surrounding environment.

When implemented correctly, robotics can make the act of planting crops much more efficient. Many vertical farms use an automated production line which involves plant beds going through a standard assembly line. Unlike fixed production lines, robots can fill different sized beds that require different types of plants.

Once crops have been planted, they must be routinely inspected to ensure that growth and quality are maintained. Also, although to a lesser extent, plants still need to be monitored to make sure crops are healthy at all stages of growth. In this sense, robots that are equipped with advanced visual inspection technology can chart the growth of plants and estimate when they will be ready to harvest.

Likewise, there are certain varieties of plants that must be pruned during the growth cycle. Using traditional automation for this process is challenging as plant growth patterns are relatively unpredictable while performing this task by hand can be time consuming. Again, robots use vision technology to prune plants after inspecting them are a more suitable option, as well as for spraying and nutrition.

Lastly, harvesting is a stage of vertical farming that must be managed with care. Along with advances in imaging technology, There have also been improvements to robotic grip control that allow a robot's grip to be adjusted and calibrated to ensure that crops are not damaged during harvest.

Robotics and AI can solve most of the problems facing vertical farmers, so robotics adoption should continue to increase in the coming years. If the robots are programmed correctly, with the right data sets and the required algorithmic training, they can perform most of the work involved in a crop growth cycle, thus optimizing the entire end-to-end process.

Julio Cesar Blanco – April 25, 2023

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