2016 is supposed to be the year that a host of long-gestating technologies finally hit the mainstream. At CES we're told it'll be the year of UHD video, VR headsets, electric cars for the masses and FAA-licensed drones. And we think you can add hydroponics to that list, too.
While the technology for hydroponic farming is hardly new - scientists and stoners have been perfecting it for decades - the world finally appears to be ready to eat plants grown in indoor nutrient baths. Experimental farms are popping up in places like the Tokyo subway, and The New York Times recently profiled two startups who have found a niche supplying fresh lettuce year-round in Alaska.
With recent food safety scares, we've seen an interesting clash between consumers' desire for locally grown organic vegetables and their concern about the potential for food-borne illness from produce grown on small farms. Hydroponics seems like the perfect technology to resolve that conflict, delivering farm-fresh greens grown within the city - perhaps even in the same building as the market - under closely monitored clean-room conditions.
The greatest hurdle to widespread adoption right now is the labor- and energy-intensive nature of hydroponics, but the current boom in robotics and automation innovation could cut those costs dramatically. And with an increasingly unpredictable global climate, the consistency of hydroponic crop quality may turn out to be worth a premium.