While many questions remain around exactly what role vertical farming will play in the future of agriculture, there are a few things we can count on with certainty. These indoor farms will become more and more automated over time, as well as modular. They will also be more user-friendly to the average consumer or small business, something evident by the number of indoor farming offerings at CES 2020 this week.
Among those offerings is the Planty Cube, a smart hydroponic indoor farm made by a Seoul, South Korea-based IoT company called n.thing. The grow system is modular enough to work in a number of different settings, from an apartment to a cafeteria, and automated enough that pretty much anyone can operate it.
Like other vertical farms out there, the Planty Cube environment contains rows and shelves of planters stacked inside a shipping container. Plants rely not on soil and human hands cultivating them, but instead on a computerized system that delivers the right “recipe” of nutrients, water, and light from LEDs to help photosynthesis. Humans have little involvement with the actual plants during the grow process. Most of the work on the farm, such as adjusting the LEDs, controlling temperature and humidity, and monitoring plant health, is done by the Planty Cube system, which uses sensors to collect data on the plants and can be controlled remotely by a smartphone.
Leo Kim, n.thing’s CEO, came up with the idea for the farm after creating an IoT-enabled smart pot called “Planty.” From there, the company developed the Planty Square, a modular system made up of multiple capsules called Pickcells, each roughly two inches in width, length, and depth, that contain the seeds of each plant. Users can connect multiple Squares (“like a Lego block,” says Kim) to grow larger crops, and enough of these put together make up the Planty Cube farm.
The Planty Cube system relies heavily on data from farming logs, which are fed back into a database known as the CUBE Cloud and analyzed with AI to help farmers determine optimal growing conditions for each crop. As the user adds more Squares to the farm with new and different crops, this real time, cloud-based system makes it easier for the user to manage the overall farm, even remotely.
While a number of companies now operate automated vertical farms that grow leafy greens, most of these (Kalera, Plenty, Intelligent Growth Systems) are better suited to large warehouse settings that produce millions of heads of lettuce. Planty Cube’s modular and user-friendly nature make it a more apt candidate for places like schools, hospital cafeterias, and university dining halls — all locations that would benefit from having freshly harvested greens onsite.
Planty Cube nabbed a Best of Innovation award for CES this year. If you’re currently milling about the show floor in Vegas, drop by n.thing’s booth to see the Planty Cube in action.