Vertical farming: the future or a fad?

The Problem

200 years ago there were less than 1 billion humans living on earth. Fast forward to 2018 and the human population is above 7 billion with no indication of slowing down anytime soon as experts expect it to be over 12 billion by 2050. This rapid growth can be attributed towards a number of positive developments and improvements within the technology space and medical fields, but with all that growth comes plenty of problems. One of the most critical problems that a rapid growth in population brings is food. Because of the growing demand for food humans are currently overfishing oceans and without drastic measures to prevent this we could see every seafood species fall below commercially viable levels as soon as 2048. You don’t need to be a math wiz to understand that more people means more food, begging the question: how will we continue to address our rising populations as we have less space to work with and more people to feed?

The Solution

Vertical farming. It’s as simple as it sounds: grow crops vertically instead of using great plains and open fields. Sky scrappers, schools, apartment buildings, the potential hosts of vertical farms are nearly limitless. It’s a solution that is already being implemented within major cities across the globe with a wide variety of leading experts believing it to be the most effective way to combat the growing food crisis. A major bonus that comes with vertical farming is how environmentally safe it is. Indoor farming reduces the waste of fertilizers and water and because of the controlled climate it also requires ef pesticides and harmful toxins that can often be found in expansive outdoor crops. One of the world’s largest vertical farms currently produces heads of lettuce using 40% less power, 80% less food waste and 99% less water usage than their outdoor competitors, clearly indicating the eco-friendly benefits that come with vertical farming.

The Promise

What type of food can be grown and how much of it greatly depends on the availability of space and resources surrounding the vertical varm. However, almost every vertical farm will aim to work around developing a plan that includes greater water preservation, an increase in yield, more efficient use of urban space, and renewable production on top of being environmentally friendly. Vertical farms are also weatherproof and can feature year round crop production, something that many outdoor fields fail to accomplish through blistering winters or scorching hot summers.

How It’s Done

When it comes to vertical farming there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But there a few practices and commonalities found within every vertical farm, including:

  • Stacking crops

    • Instead of laying out crops in an open row farmers instead stack them on top of each other

  • LED lighting

    • Used as a energy and light source, replacing the need of a Sun.

  • Using technology to aid the growing process

    • Humidity and temperature control

    • Control monitoring of nutrients and fertilizer

    • Timed treatment of crops

  • They feature some type of “ponics”

    • Every vertical farm will include some variation of a nutrient and water delivery system intended to feed the crops (Aeroponics, Hydroponics, Aquaponics, etc.)

While these features can be found in almost every vertical farm a number of newer developments are including plans that collect their own rain water and produce their own energy for the entire building through wind turbines and solar cells. As vertical farms continue to develop, a greater sense of community involvement continues to arise; these farms aren’t just looking to maximize their profits, they’re looking to give back to their communities and help pave the way for future generations.

The Benefits

The U.S. manages to waste $165 billion in food each year. 40% of the food in the U.S. today goes uneaten, much of which finds itself in local landfills contributing towards a large portion of our current methane emissions. Vertical farming combats this growing crisis by providing food for only one city rather than shipping it off to people across the globe. A large portion of food is wasted through transportation and quality standards that overemphasize appearance, which results in less profits for the farmers and higher prices for the consumer. Vertical farms eliminates all of these problems by eradicating the need for shipping and transportation: all of the food that is grown will go towards feeding the city, so there is no need for large shipping containers that often compromise the integrity of the produce. As previously mentioned vertical farms are also extremely environmentally friendly as they greatly reduce water usage and wastage. The efficiency behind these farms also save farmers quite a bit of money on their energy bills, not to mention the 24/7 capability that shields crops from extreme weather.

The Negatives

It’s not cheap. Yes, you will save a great amount of money overtime, but that cannot be achieved overnight. Urban land is going to generally be more expensive to purchase than rural farmland. Creating a controlled weather environment is going to cost much more than gathering natural rainfall and sunlight from an open field. Unlike a rural farm you cannot employ just a farmer or two as you will need a team of engineers and scientists behind any project that is meant to serve an entire city. Another serious disadvantage is that you can only grow a limited amount of crops as not everything can be perfected under controlled climates. Plenty of produce can be grown in these farms: such as strawberries, kale, lettuce, basil, and other herbs. But some of the most widely eaten food cannot be grown under these conditions, including wheat, and rice.

Conclusion  

The world has a serious food epidemic taking place. We’re overfishing our oceans, wasting produce at an alarming rate, and not giving enough support or help to farmers who continue to lose profits on their crops. Vertical farming is a creative solution to these serious problems, and it’s a great idea and should continue to develop in cities across the globe, but is it enough? People are starving, farmers are losing money, and wasted food continues to build mountains of trash in our landfills. We need more than one creative solution to combat these serious world crises.

The rapidly growing world of the drones

In 2013 Amazon teased it’s drone delivery service known as Prime Air, which came with quite a bit of skepticism, largely due to the fact that during this time period the word drone was often associated with intense global affairs and world war. The hobbyist market had yet to take off, thus why when people heard the word drone it often came with negative associations. After the initial 2013 release, Amazon and it’s drone delivery service stayed relatively quiet, that is until early 2016 when they released their first video which detailed how the delivery service would work.

The worlds largest online retailer once again found itself submerged in global headlines, this time experiencing a more welcoming public response. The craze following the video which reached over 10's of millions of views through Facebook and YouTube garnered enough attention that major competitors began to come up with their own drone delivery services, Facebook and YouTube garnered enough attention that major competitors began to come up with their own drone delivery services, realizing the potential behind the emerging technology.

Everyone wants a piece of the pie

Following Amazon's successful first attempt, industry leading corporations soon began to roll out their own unique plans of incorporating drones within their business models. Walmart made a statement that revealed the company would soon be using drones within their 190 distribution centers, each serving around 100 to 150 individual stores spread throughout the United States. By using drones within their warehouses, Walmart can cut down on the amount of boxes they are using to store products as well as handle inventory at a much more efficient rate, saving them both time and money. 

Plenty of skepticism has surrounded Amazon and their drone delivery services, leading some industry leaders to focus on other areas of potential growth. Apple recently partnered with drone maker DJI, a company who sells highly advanced products to drone enthusiasts. The partnership will ensure that DJI makes all of their future products Apple compatible, allowing users to control their highly advanced flying machines through a simple app which can be installed on any Apple device. 

Amazon isn't the only leading delivery service hoping to gain new consumers through drone marketing campaigns. UPS began testing it's own drone services as early as 2016, and recently rolled out a more detailed plan on how the company plans to use drones in the near future. UPS plans to station drones on delivery trucks, which can fly away and deliver packages while the driver is making separate deliveries, slashing the standard delivery time in half!

Drones are also starting to play a meaningful role within the construction industry. In late 2017, construction firm Balfour Beauty completed their first trial of using drones to inspect building sites and bridges, which ended up saving the firm a total 8,000 euros compared to traditional practices. Expect drones to play an increasing role within this industry as 3D mapping is a heck of a lot easier with a drone in the sky. 

Legal issues plaguing delivery services

US policy makers have made it extremely difficult for large corporations to roll out their drone delivery services. FedEx, Amazon, and UPS were all hoping to test the waters in 2018 by offering limited services within heavy populated areas, but current US policy is making that nearly impossible to achieve. 

FAA's Part 107, a portion of federal law that covers drone policy includes a set of rules that place a severe set of limitations on the possibilities of expanding drone delivery services, including the following restrictions:

  1. The drone must be within visible sight of the pilot in control 
  2. The drone cannot be operated from a moving vehicle 
  3. The drone cannot be operated near public air spaces 
  4. Fully autonomous drones cannot be used for commercial uses 
  5. The pilot can only control one drone at a time

UPS plans for rolling out commercial drones involved a moving vehicle, while Amazon planned to use real time data that would help create an autonomous drone, both of which violate multiple restrictions within US drone policy. If corporations wish to use drones for delivery purposes, their going to have to get extremely creative if they wish to avoid legal consequences. 

Making a difference

The nonprofit sector has quietly been experimenting with drones, with companies often time using them for creative projects that could not be carried out without the help of the advanced machines. From Africa to Europe, a handful of nonprofits are helping create a safer and healthier planet by creating world changing solutions powered through drones. 

To combat the spread of Zika, WeRobotics developed a drone meant to fly sterile mosquitoes to high at-risk regions within Africa where male mosquitoes are overpopulating and spreading deadly diseases. The nonprofit released 100,000 sterile males per mission, releasing them during mating seasons. The creative strategy incorporating advanced drones heavily reduces mosquito population levels within affected areas, helping save lives and reduce the number of mosquito borne illnesses, which take over 750,000 lives per year.

Another nonprofit looking to make a global impact through drone implementation is Women on Waves, a dutch based nonprofit that empowers women by providing free, basic healthcare services among a variety of other assistance programs. The nonprofit is currently using drones to deliver birth control pills to underdeveloped countries across the globe. The campaign began in 2014 and is currently being used across Europe and Africa. 

Drones are also playing a critical role within the fight to protect endangered species. National parks are beginning to use their advanced capabilities to better understand and track animals who are in danger of becoming extinct.  UAV & Drone Solutions have partnered with a handful of popular African national parks to track animals while also keeping an eye out for poaches looking to make a serious profit. The partnership has helped assist in the arrest of multiple poaching groups, helping create a more stable and safe environment for the worlds most endangered species. 

Professional spots.. and drones? 

Perhaps where drones are making their biggest impact is within the world of professional sports. The Drone Racing League is the worlds first professional drone racing circuit, touring across the US and hosting events in major cities such as Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, and New York City. The league originated in 2015, and has experienced rapid growth in just a few short years. The league secured a broadcasting deal with ESPN in 2016, and early viewership ratings have been encouraging as the league reached an audience of over 30 million people in 2017 alone. The recent success has been so great the league plans to expand the circuit all the way to South East Asia for the 2018 season. The recent announcement of the global expansion helped lead the league to larger investments, as they recently struck a deal with FOX Sports, who will earn exclusive rights within their Asian broadcasting network.

DRL also recently announced their largest sponsorship to date, a 5 year, global deal with insurance brand Allianz. The insurance giant earned title rights, meaning the circuit, trophy, and league divisions will all include the name Allianz along with the company logo. The company was an early investor within the world of Esports, a professional gaming circuit experiencing a wealth of growth. 

The world of virtual gaming, known as ESports went from an afterthought to a multi-billion dollar industry in just a few short years, with colleges now offering full-ride scholarships to the nations most elite gamer's. Many industry experts believe that drone racing is currently on pace to experience the same amount of success, largely because of the massive sponsors and broadcasting deals that are set in place for years to come. 

 

Big data and it's evolving role in shaping our future

Data is everywhere these days, and almost all of us are consuming and producing some type of data on an everyday, regular basis. That tweet you just sent out? Data. Your most recent internet search featuring lists of the nearest takeout pizza? Data. Asking your smart device what the weather is looking like, yeah that’s data too and someone or something will eventually analyze it. Simply put, if you’re connected to the internet and using a WiFi or Bluetooth connection, you’re producing data that will exist until the power runs out and the phones no longer work.

Before you hide from big brother and draw the curtains, it’s important to understand how big data works. Yes, there is such a thing as data brokers, and it is a billion dollar industry that operates on harvesting and selling your data to corporations that use it for their competitive advantages. But these days, the quantity and rate of which we produce data has grown at such a rapid pace that often times the analysis behind our personal data is factually wrong and missing key information.

Where does all that data go?

The majority of data that you consume or create will be stored in massive data holding centers. These holding centers are almost always owned and under the control of the government, a fortune 500 company or a leading global corporation such as Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, or Amazon. The United States hosts over 3 million data centers, but fewer than 10 of those facilities will account for 72% of the country's data. The U.S. government boasts some of the world’s largest data centers, with a handful of individual locations that cover more than 600,000 square feet.

Where your data is specifically stored depends on what device you’re using, the search engine behind it, your current location, and the securities behind your device or cloud. For example, if you’re using Google Chrome or you search anything through the corporations widely used database then that data will be stored at one of their 15 locations across the world, ranging from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Hamina, Finland. It’s important to know that data is not singular in where it travels, and in the majority of cases it will reach a diverse set of holding centers, ranging from the NSA to Microsoft.

Uncle Sam isn’t the bad guy

Believe it or not, the U.S. government is pretty transparent when it comes to data collection. The majority of their centers publicly reveal the data that they collect, which is often times focused on climate control or monitoring global affairs. The data centers that you should be worried about are the ones that are held through private companies and corporations, as they’re the ones that constantly find themselves in controversial, national headlines.

Leading industry corporations such as Google and Facebook use your data to make a whole lot of money by selling your personal data to large advertising agencies.They also use that data for themselves by creating tailored in-house marketing campaigns designed to meet your specific needs, which are mined through smart algorithms running throughout their data processing centers. Uncle Sam doesn’t pimp out your data to the world’s highest bidders, unlike the makers of your beloved smartphone and online streaming service.

Amazon and Facebook are perhaps the two least transparent corporations that store and mine your everyday data usage, as they refuse to reveal exactly what they store and to whom they are selling it to. Users of Amazon’s Echo should be careful of what they say to the smart device, as the company has yet to disclose where the data is stored and who has access to it, leaving many people concerned that the company is selling voice recordings to the U.S. government or private agencies offering the most money.  

Investment of Big Data continues to skyrocket, but positive results are lacking

In the early 1990’s computer scientist John Mashey coined the term big data through a series of academia articles that explained how important of a role big data will play in shaping our future societies. The term referred to data that would be so large and expansive that our current tools would not be able to properly store, manage, and analyze the incredibly large data sets. Since then, the term has gained popularity through the rapid growth of technological advancements, and entrepreneurs have capitalized, creating data farming firms that have raised over hundreds of millions of dollars.

The market for big data began to take off in the early 2000’s, when our data usage through social media platforms and the internet of things became so overpopulated that our current tools could no longer keep up with the output, paving the way for future companies to create tools and algorithms specified to meet big data demands. Since the early 2000’s, the market share of big data has increased by a minimum of 10% per year, and is expected to reach 200 billion in 2018 as predicted by IDC. Economic analysts don’t expect the investments to slow down anytime soon, and forecast that the entire market could reach 300 billion dollars as soon as 2020.

The investments have been pouring in, but what about actual results? As of now, big data is one of the riskiest investments to make as an angel investor or company because the evidence of positive ROI after initial investments is extremely cloudy, no matter what Silicon Valley is saying. The majority of fortune 500 companies cannot handle big data on their own, and the data mining firms are so new to the market that there isn’t enough supporting evidence out there to prove that these investments are worth the expensive price tag.

It’s not only private firms struggling. In 2008 Google became heavily interested in big data, and announced its plan to use data sets to predict important crises or epidemics, with their first project (GFT) focusing on tracking and predicting flu outbreaks on a regional basis. The program failed miserably as it failed to predict the outbreak of H1N1 in 2009. Google apologized for the poor results, and pledged to create a smarter system. However, they once again failed to live up to their promised potential, and GFT met its final demise in early 2013 when it once again failed to predict a global flu outbreak.

How big data can help improve our future

Self driving cars. We’ve all heard about them by now, but the majority of us don’t own one. As of now, these advanced machines of transportation rely on what is called partial automation, acting on SAE level 2. What that means in English is that the self driving cars that are currently on the road are using data, but do not fully depend on it. When the magic really starts to happen, is when these advanced cars can rely solely on big data sets to get from point A to point B. In the near future, cars will be able to take real time traffic data to create the quickest routes, and eventually every car will be working through the same system, leading to the possibility of no more traffic jams. LA just got a whole lot more attractive!

The healthcare industry has been a leader in big data investments, as there are a widespread of complex communication and data logging systems that are used by hospitals across the globe. Four hospitals in Paris are currently using big data sets to predict patient traffic on a 24 hour basis, helping them properly staff according to their patients needs. Positive results are already starting to pour in, as the four hospitals are experiencing much shorter waiting lines compared to local hospitals who are not using big data.

Big data can also help improve societal infrastructures by reporting problems before a human would ever take notice. One example of how this is currently playing a role in cities across the globe is through the tracking of potholes by using big data. Just 5 years ago potholes and dangerous road conditions were all tracked through paper, but now large cities like Chicago and Kansas City are using real time big data to improve their cities infrastructure. The city of Chicago placed sensors on all of their public service vehicles, which would relay important information back by tracking bumps or sensitive areas in the street, allowing them to track dangerous road conditions without the driver having to ever step out of the vehicle.

Big data could potentially create more jobs

Perhaps the biggest worry within big data and artificial intelligence is that it will terminate millions of employment opportunities. While this is true, it’s important to consider how many jobs it will create in return. The firm Gartner predicts that by 2022 AI and big data will create more than 2.2 million jobs, exceeding the 1.8 million jobs it will replace. However, the report did mention that the shipping and manufacturing industry will see a total net loss in employment, but this is due to the automation and artificial intelligence that will soon hit all major shipping corporations.

Titles such as Chief Officer of Data, or data miner did not exist in the early 2000’s, and college degrees that focus on big data will continue to rise as more companies begin to see the value in understanding all of their data. However, one thing to keep in mind, is that the jobs created through big data will be highly skilled and trained professions that require years of higher education, which could lead to societal problems because the jobs that big data and AI are replacing are lower-level labor jobs that do not require master degrees.

In the end, it’s impossible to predict if big data will result in a positive or negative effect to society as a whole. But one thing is for certain, which is that the role that big data will play in our everyday lives will only increase as time goes on.


 

The Internet of Things

It’s 2018. Your speaker in the kitchen can talk to you. The living room TV knows your favorite shows to binge, and your computer brings up your favorite content before you even have a chance to pull up your web browser. In case you haven’t noticed, technology is advancing, and so are our most beloved products. But what’s behind this change? How in the world does your refrigerator connect to the internet, and what’s allowing our most basic household appliances to suddenly connect to our smartphones? It’s not rocket science, instead, it’s a small, low-cost WiFi microchip known as ESP8266.

In August of 2014, Ai-Thinker developed a module known as ESP-01, which allowed smaller micro-controllers to connect to local WiFi networks. The Chinese manufacturer opened the door for connecting household items to the internet, and paved the way for future innovations. When it first hit the market, the code within the module was strictly Chinese, but hackers quickly began translating it to Western languages, and big business suddenly became involved when corporate entities soon realized the chip could be produced and sold at an extremely low cost.

In late October of 2014 a Shanghai based corporation known as Espressif Systems released a software development kit that allowed users to ditch the outdated micro-controller in exchange for a more sleek, easier to use chip that no longer needed to be controlled by a separate device. The China based firm open sourced all of their developments, allowing hobbyists to tweak the intricate design, giving them the freedom and ability to connect their most basic appliances to the internet. 

For now, the ESP8266 acts a key player for hobbyists, but has yet to find its way within commercial products. However, products such as Amazon’s Alexa use extremely similar microchips, the difference being that the large corporation refuses to share highly coveted technology through open sourced data, leaving consumers and competitors in the dark.  

Where the ESP8266 really makes a difference, is within the housing market. ‘Smart homes’ are the new trend within upscale neighborhoods littered across the United States, and TV shows across HGTV proudly boast the all-in-one connectivity shared within their newly renovated homes. Without the ESP8266, or a microchip of similar capability, your lights wouldn’t be able to turn on through your phone, and you’d be stuck in the cavemen days where you have to actually get up to change the temperature in the room.