Food production is a complex system, with many different industries working together to get food from the farm or field to our tables. This system has always faced unique challenges, including ever-increasing demand and labor shortages, and the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the food production industry to look beyond its present challenges as we move into the Fifth Industrial Revolution, or what we call Life 5.0.
Food production intertwines many different industries and the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of millions. As COVID-19 spread throughout the country, the major questions for individuals and companies driving this system revolved around how to ensure the safety of employees, how to continue production and how to advance technology to meet new demands and restrictions. Technology is continuing to be a driving force in food production and has redefined productivity during the pandemic. As we move forward, technology will continue to revolutionize food production into a more sustainably productive industry.
Agriculture is already a technology-forward industry in many ways and new advancements in technology like robotics create safer working conditions to meet rising food demands during the pandemic. Farmers can’t fully do their job remotely, but by using robotic systems to plant, maintain, or harvest crops, farmers are able to produce a robust crop and minimize safety risks.
Many robotics startups have emerged or grown over the past few months with creative solutions, like robotic growing facilities, to improve sustainability and productivity on the farm. The pandemic has proved to be an opportunity to find ways to meet current demand and has served as a catalyst to imagine new ways for humans and machines to collaborate to create a more sustainable and innovative food production process.
The empty shelves in grocery stores exposed manufacturing vulnerabilities within the food production system. With more people stocking up and staying home, concerns over employee safety in enclosed spaces like factories and manufacturing facilities created shortages. Many businesses had to address an important question: “How do we maintain supply without risking employee safety?” In many cases, technology is the answer.
Artificial Intelligence and automation are able safely to perform routine tasks more efficiently than human workers – and can’t get sick. For example, automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) can be used to reduce labor costs and improve productivity along the supply chain. These computer-controlled systems improve warehouse space utilization and allow for collaboration between humans and machines.
When most people think of self-driving vehicles, their first thought goes to companies like Tesla. While consumer-focused autonomous vehicles are still in their early phases of adoption, autonomous vehicle technologies have made significant strides in the trucking space. For example, Alphabet’s Waymo is testing a self-driving robot truck program in Texas with the goal of creating an autonomous shipping fleet.
Autonomous vehicles present the opportunity to move goods faster and more effectively, and are less susceptible to human error and vulnerabilities. Autonomous vehicles also create the opportunity to diversify supply chains, allowing manufacturers and farmers to reach a broader customer base through retailers, or go straight to customers for a similar price as large shipments to one source.
The agriculture, manufacturing and transportation industries must continue to evolve and advance current technology to safely feed the world. These industries must take risks and push what is imaginable, and many have stepped up in response to the pandemic. However, robotics, automation and autonomous vehicles are just the beginning of redefining the food production industry with a focus on how to protect workers, increase productivity and embrace sustainability. These industries are at the forefront of redefining the relationship between humans and technology in Life 5.0.
About the Author
Abby Haas is as an Account Coordinator based out of RPG’s Raleigh office. She is a North Carolina native and graduated from North Carolina State University, where she majored in public relations and nonprofit studies.