Hive: Future of Food Systems in New York CIty

Hive is system that reimagines the food web that could exist in New York city in the year 2035. It proposes a combination of vertical urban farms along the coast of NYC and a network of self-driving mini robots called B-bots (or B’s) to deliver hyper-fresh and hyper-local produce directly from the farm to the consumer’s home.  This project was a collaboration with Kuan Xu and Sebastian Harmsen.

According to estimates, the population of New York is set to increase by 1.5 million by the year 2035. This, combined with the loss of arable land due to climate change, will put an enormous pressure on the food systems. It is also estimated that food imports are set to increase by 60% during this time to feed all the people moving in to the city, most of which could be genetically modified foods. This will lead to an increased demand for fresh locally produced food that is high in nutrients. This is the context in which Hive is based. 

The system proposes a series of vertical farming sites along the coast of New York for growing fresh produce as well as seafood. As per research done by the design team, a vertical farm the size of one Manhattan block and 30 floors high can feed 10,000 people. This would mean that 900 farms throughout New York can feed the entire city. 

Since the food is produced right within the city, it is always hyper-fresh and can be delivered to consumers within hours of being harvested, using         B-bots. These self-driving mini robots run on solar power and operate only with a short radius of each farm. A series of drones are used to transport food between different farms if there is higher demand than supply for a specific food at that particular farm. 

An important aspect of this scenario is also the “Green Score” system. By this time in the future, climate change has gone too far and heavy regulation and international pressures has forced the government to impose a penalty on people with unsustainable lifestyles. Under the Green-Score system, each household (based on size, location and number of people) is allocated a budget for how much electricity and water they can consume and how much waste they can produce. Going over budget causes the prices of your food to increase significantly. 

The B’s not only deliver food to the consumer, but along the route, read their consumption for the week, collect trash from the house, calculate the Green-Score and based on this score, charge the user appropriately for the food. In this way, the Hive system not only provides fresh food for the city, but helps in reducing the amount of trash generated, while also eliminating garbage trucks from the city. 

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Vertical farms not only produce fruits and vegetables, but also harvest seafood. By using aeroponics methods of agriculture, the amount of water consumed is over 90% less than the water used in traditional agriculture. Conventional farming is no longer a viable business for farmers since the regulations about water consumption make it a highly unprofitable venture.

The project started by thinking about delivery systems for groceries in the future. We proposed several different delivery mechanisms, one of which was to use the yellow taxis—which run empty about 30% of the time—and have them carry small amounts of groceries in the trunk. Algorithms would determine which part of the city consumed what kind of food at what times and the taxis would carry those items. This way, an under-utilised existing system could be used to solve the problem of near-instant food delivery. 

We laid out a step-by-step process for the immediate (2018), near (2024) and distant future (2030). Along the way, we realized that what we really wanted to solve was instant access to food; the method of delivery wasn’t as important. That is when the project pivoted from a delivery system to figuring out the future of the food web, and that is how Hive was born.