Last week I attended the Consumer Electronics Show to experience Food Tech being a category for the first time and to support The Spoon’s Food Tech programming as a sponsor. Going in the midst of a pandemic was a tough decision. But ultimately after carefully reviewing all the safety protocols in place by CES, I decided to pack my masks and hand sanitizer and make the trek to Las Vegas to see the latest food and agtech innovations from around the globe on display.
In the end, I returned home even more excited about the potential for science, technology, and innovation that can make our future food system more resilient, healthy and climate smart. Here are some of the technologies I saw. For more coverage check out recent articles on The Spoon.
The biggest AgTech news this year is John Deere’s announcement of their fully autonomous tractor which was showcased in an immersive exhibit. Growers can add autonomy to existing 8R 410 tractors by installing two boxes -- one on the front and the other in the back -- that contain a total of 12 stereo cameras and an Nvidia GPU. The system is then fully controlled and monitored via a smartphone.
FPT Industrial, a brand of CNH Industrial, showcased its technologies that are being used to produce the world's first wine grape harvest with a carbon-neutral tractor. Fontanafredda is a historic winery founded by the first King of Italy which currently has 120 hectares of certified organic vineyards and promotes best-practices grape cultivation with no environmental impact. FPT designed a biomethane tractor engine for Fontanafredda that has a zero-carbon footprint since the biomethane is produced by the anaerobic digestion of agricultural waste.
Naio Technologies displayed an autonomous farming robot, the Z440, which is fully electric. The company also won an Innovation Award for Ted, the first robot dedicated to vineyards which offers an alternative to the use of herbicides.
Tokyo-based Innophys showcased their MUSCLE SUITs - two wearable devices that reduce the burden on workers doing manual labor that involves lifting heavy objects (MUSCLE SUIT) and raising one's arms over long periods of time or repetitively (MUSCLE SUIT GS-ARM). The system uses compressed air to exert 25.5 kgf auxiliary power - the equivalent of assisting me to lift 56 lbs. It does not require electricity and it is water and dust-proof, it can be used with no restrictions due to time, location, or weather. Imagine the applications to improve worker health and wellness in agriculture and food supply chain settings.
Controlled Environment Agriculture
N.THING, winner of the CES Best of Innovation Awards in 2020, is back in 2022 with another Innovation Award win for their Decentralized Farm Solution for Sustainability. The company has developed a modular, container-based vertical farming system called CUBE as well as the software to run it, CUBE OS.
France-based Pret a Pousser showcased a new stackable, connected indoor garden system that the company says can grow enough leafy greens to replace the need to shop for them at the store. Their patented Flo2at system optimizes root oxynization which allows the plant to breathe better and draw in a greater quantity of essential elements. The seeds are contained in biodegradable pods and users can monitor the system via an app.
Istanbul-based Vahaa showcased their Smart Garden product which allows consumers to grow leafy greens in their home with zero waste, chemicals and carbon footprint. Vahaa was selected as the Audience Award winner at the Consumer Technology Association Foundation 2022 Pitch Competition.
Food and Ingredients
CEO Alan Hahn spoke on The Future of Meat panel discussion about the potential for MycoTechnology to harness the natural fermentation abilities of mushrooms to solve food industry challenges. He explained that companies looking to mimic animal products with plant-based ingredients run into challenges with flavor, aroma, and functionality. By using mycelia, or the “roots” of mushrooms to ferment plant-based proteins, MycoTechnology can “clean up” problematic compounds. This process can improve flavors and aromas, enhance water and oil holding capacity, and unlock other sought after nutrition and functional properties while minimizing undesirable ones.
Conferencegoers experienced the potential of fungi fermentation firsthand with MycoTechnology’s tasting of a vegan chili featuring their meatless crumbles and vegan cheese. The company also announced the launch of their consumer brand Goodside Foods, which makes one of its flagship commercial ingredients available to everyone.
Yangoo debuted their vegan cheese made with almond milk, developed by 'Armored Fresh', a U.S. subsidiary, and offered samples. Armored Fresh cheese is made by fermenting plant based milk in the same way as animal based dairy products, giving it a very similar flavor profile and protein content.
Kaltech unveiled their product lineup of purifiers and deodorizers for air purification, food storage and water filtration systems, including their Fresh Food Keeper, a countertop preservation box that prevents bread and fruit from getting moldy or rotten. The company also showcased their water purification system and demoed their photocatalytic technology which generates carbon-free hydrogen.
Yo-Kai Express demoed the Octo-chef, their fast-growing autonomous robot vending machine for public and retail spaces, that whips up hot noodle dishes like ramen, udon and pho in 45 seconds. CEO Andy Lin spoke at the Welcome to Our Food Robot Future panel discussion about his vision for Yo-Kai to democratize food by making high quality dishes available to consumers in settings where they normally have limited access such as airports or offices after hours. Yo-Kai teamed up with Nasoya and Pulmuone to offer samples in the booth - the Pulmuone Beef Bulgogi Udon Bowl was delicious!
While I missed seeing Picnic’s booth this year, I enjoyed CEO Clayton Woodon’s perspectives on the Welcome to Our Food Robot Future panel where he discussed the company’s aim to help restaurant owners become more profitable and scalable with their automated pizza assembly kitchen.
Israeli-based GKI Group demoed their conversational AI robotic bartender, Cecelia.ai. An animated avatar spoke to participants, accepting orders by voice, while the liquid-loaded machine mixed and dispensed the drink, reportedly able to fulfill 120 orders within an hour.
Bear Robotics demoed their Servi robot and the company announced its partnership with polymer company Covestro to create hospitality robots that can withstand the wear and tear of the job. Servi joined the CES Food Tech stage alongside Juan Higueros, Co-Founder & COO of Bear Robotics, during the Welcome to Our Food Robot Future panel discussion. The conversation hit on the potential for robots to work alongside employees, freeing them up from the most arduous tasks and enabling them to focus on more creative and high value activities.
South Korean-based Storant’s exhibit featured a fully autonomous coffee shop complete with kiosk-based ordering, automated delivery via autonomous serving robots and an anti-virus table equipped with purification and sterilization systems that can sense when diners leave the table and self-clean before the next guests arrive.
Shanghai-based Keenan Robotics displayed its entire product line of service robots including a Delivery Robot designed to help staff serve food and pick up used dishes and cups, and a Disinfection Robot fitted with a UV light and disinfectant dry-mist sprayer designed to disinfect high-traffic areas and minimize people's exposure to harmful microbes.
INFINIQ was named an Innovation Awards Honoree for its cutting-edge product AI counter - a self-checkout solution that scans barcode-less products and leverages vision AI technologies to automatically check out items as they move along the conveyor belt.
Ottonomy debuted Ottobots, a fleet of fully autonomous delivery robots for restaurant and retail industries for both indoor and outdoor environments. The company is the world’s first fully autonomous delivery robot at an airport, delivering retail and food items at CVG Airport, Cincinnati.
Carbon Origins is taking a different approach to last mile food delivery. These autonomous vehicles are trained by employees working in VR who can see the vehicle's surroundings and provide real time feedback to the AI.
The Fresh Portal has created a refrigerated storage locker which can be built into a home. Food deliveries can be stored in the code-enabled locker at various temperatures while a person is at work and retrieved from the inside facing side of the locker when they return home.
My tour of food and agriculture tech at CES 2022 highlighted how dramatically the pace of innovation is happening across the globe to meet changing consumer behaviors, address the challenges posed to our food system by Covid and introduce healthier and more sustainable solutions. Robotics and automation solutions on display aim to decrease the burden of labor challenges on employers across the system from growers to restaurant owners. Food innovations, indoor growing solutions and kitchen technologies that make preparing healthy food easier, offer exciting, nutritious and enjoyable food choices to consumers. It’s an exhilarating time for our industry and I hope the global technology community, both those in attendance at CES and following along digitally, will continue to be inspired to develop and support innovations that make our future food system healthier, more resilient and climate smart.