Despite living in the age of technological innovation, there are actually only a few pieces of technology that will end up having a lasting impact on human society. The smartphone, yeah, that's a game-changer. It remains to be seen if "smart glasses" will have the same staying power after Google's attempt turfed out. And while we're only now catching a glimpse of self-driving cars, mark my words, they will be the norm in a decade's time.
There's another great leap forward that's already here, even if it may not seem like it yet: 3D printers.
They're as close to the act of teleportation that we're ever going to get, and the printers are already being used in a variety of food-based projects, including allowing astronauts to print their own pizza in space. Last week, the technology took another step forward with the introduction of a farm box that can be printed at home.
The project comes courtesy of FoodRising.org, a non-profit "science-based natural health advocacy organization" based in Texas. This grow box is the first of their planned series of practical inventions that will make healthy and natural foods more accessible to the world at large.
How the process works is simple: You go to their website and download, free of charge, the files for five 3D printable components. You print up those bad boys, gather some cheap household items like pencil erasers and paper clips, follow the easy assembly instructions, and begin growing your own herbs, leafy greens, salads, tomatoes, and other nutritious offerings (all from seeds you purchase yourself). If you're looking to plant root vegetables, FoodRising will release a downloadable adaption later in the year to support these types of plants.
The grow boxes utilize a principle called "constant bottom feeding non-circulation hydroponics" developed by University of Hawaii Professor Bernard Kratky. The positives of using this kind of system are numerous, including that the plants need less than half the normal amount of soil, and less than 1/20th the amount of water that conventional agriculture methods utilize. The boxes also don't use any electricity, and growers don't have to worry about spending time removing annoying weeds. The whole process is quite easy.
In fact, the ease of this method is another part of this project: education. As part of this grow box push, FoodRising raised enough funds to create 250 grow boxes to donate to schools around the country, to assist in teaching school kids how to grow fruits and vegetables. If you want your child's school to be considered for the donation, head over to the website to nominate the school.
That said, there's still a fly in the ointment of the whole project, and it's a biggie: Not a lot of people have 3D printers.
While the price of the technology is coming down, the cheapest you can realistically expect to pay for a 3D printer is near $1,000. That's a hefty expenditure for someone who doesn't use the printer on a regular basis. What are people without 3D printers -- that is, the majority of us -- to do?
I posed the question to FoodRising, and they pointed me in the direction of 3DHubs, a website connecting those with 3D printers with people who want to use them (for a nominal fee). Los Angeles currently has 145 different locations with accessible 3D printers listed on the site. So, if you're interested in printing your own grow box, find a nearby printer, upload the design, and take it from there.
What does all of this mean? Well, while the project may seem to be using a technology that isn't accessible to all, it's not that far off. As the price of 3D printers goes down, and the need begins to rise, more printers will be in more homes. (Don't be surprised if a site like 3DHubs is obsolete sooner rather than later due to this reason.) This project, then, may simply be the tip of the iceberg in terms of how 3D printers will ultimately allow us all to eat healthier.
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