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Akron's Library Gets A New Toy: A Computer That Can Grow Food

MIT Media Lab
MIT's "Personal Food Computer" is being beta-tested in the Akron-Summit County Library.

At the Akron-Summit County Public Library, you can find a new food computer. No, it doesn’t print food or magically materialize it – rather, this unit grows it.

The food computer is a Plexiglas box that's a yard square with lights on top, tubes down the sides, and hydroponic plants growing up from the bottom. “Hydroponic” means soilless germination, usually in nutrient-rich water.  

This unit is especially productive because its growing process is controlled by custom software. Science and technology librarian Michele McNeal says that’s why the library has the computer.

The library and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the idea was developed, are jointly displaying the computer to broaden public interest in high-tech food production.

“To see what kinds of things are taken up and gone forward with. To see what kind of programing can be done around those things,” McNeal says. “And also, to beta test it.”

She says M.I.T. has more projects in the works, including one that involves “SCRATCH,” the children’s visual computer coding site.

“They’re taking SCRATCH out of the computer and having it interact with physical devices, wearable stuff," McNeal says. "Things that you could put on door handles, or anywhere; so that kids could write their program to interact with the world around them.”

The Knight Foundation is helping with the costs of bringing these projects to libraries around the country.