He claimed his machines were being used to feed refugees. It turns out they didn't even work.

Personal Food Computer

Caleb Harper, a principal research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, claimed to have built a “personal food computer” that can grow any plant in a small, controlled environment. He also claimed to have used the machine to feed Syrian refugees.

But the machines didn’t work. Plagued by hardware and software malfunctions, a troublesome dependence on Wi-Fi connectivity, and fundamental design flaws, the food computers never moved beyond the testing phase or yielded crops, according to IEEE Spectrum. And yet, Harper continued to spin his farcical, aspirational tale — even though, according to new reporting, refugees never even benefited from the tech.

Emerging Cracks

In recent months, cracks began to appear in the OpenAg initiative as people close to the program spoke to media outlets about how the rosy picture Harper had painted didn’t match reality.

Most notably, IEEE Spectrum reports that refugees never benefited from the flawed tech, despite Harper giving high-profile speeches about how they were using his portable farming boxes to grow crops that “they missed from home.”

Calling Bull

OpenAg also worked with high schools that let students tinker with the machines. Ironically, IEEE Spectrum reports that students came up with fixes that Harper’s own team didn’t. And his team was fed up.

“[Harper] takes credit for deployment of PFC’s to schools and internationally including a refugee camp in Amman,” OpenAg lead researcher Babak Babakinejad wrote in a 2018 email he showed IEEE Spectrum, “despite the fact that they have never been validated.”

READ MORE: MIT Media Lab Scientist Used Syrian Refugees to Tout Food Computers That Didn’t Work [IEEE Spectrum]

More on food computers: Report: MIT’s Much-Hyped Robotic Agriculture Project Is a Sham


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