Philips continues its lighting revolution, tweaking LEDs for hydroponic growing

Philips has taken the concept of lighting far beyond the traditional options as it has embraced LEDs. From connected hue bulbs for the consumer to giant sheets of lighting for architects, the company is taking the flexibility and programability offered by LEDs and changing how lighting is used. Much like the internet took the concept of phone calls and augmented that experience until it was so much more, Philips is doing the same with LEDs.

The latest example comes from the Green Sense Farms near Chicago. This indoor farm has outfitted a one-million-cubic-foot growing space with fourteen 25-foot-tall growing towers in two climate-controlled rooms for growing crops. Green Sense has been working with Philips to develop specific lighting recipes for different crops to help increase yields. The Philips LEDs emit the most appropriate wavelength of light for each plant so they can be grown indoors in racks without ever having to go outside. Because LEDs don’t get hot,¬†they can sit close to the plants, and because they can be programmed to produce many variations of wavelengths (some we can’t see but plants can use), one can program the lights for the needs of a particular crop.

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This is literally factory farming. Green Sense Farms grows the crops using machines to plant the seeds and then shunts them into racks in containers six stacks high. There’s no sunlight. The seeds germinate and seedlings are moved from the germination pod to the propagation pod. It is organic, uses the LEDs and can be produced inside urban areas, but it’s kinda creepy. This is how we will farm on spaceships as we leave our depleted earth and travel to other worlds.

Jokes about grow lamps and hydroponics aside, the problem Philips and Green Sense are hoping to help solve is of growing interest in Silicon Valley as companies try to apply technology to feeding the world’s growing population. From big purchases like Monsanto’s buy of Climate Corp. to startups using robotics, data algorithms or even manufactured nutrients, investors and entrepreneurs are looking at the future of food and seeing a chance to innovate.

Philips is no exception. What is cool about the company’s approach here is that it’s developing partnerships across an array of industries to try to take advantage of the opportunities that LED lighting offers to change design, provide ambient information and now, change our food production. It’s a lot of fun to watch.