I know the MIT goal is to be able to scale up, but if you have been around hydroponics for any length of time you would know that there are people all over that have already done just that. Like I said they call them "Grow Rooms" not food computers, Trying to reinvent something that already exists just because you can throw money at something doesn't make it better, it just makes it more expensive for no reason. That's fine if you have money to waste, but nobody who actually grows food to eat or sell wants to spend $40 to grow each tomato. That's simply a waste of time and money when you can buy them at the store for $3 a pound or less. To be cost effective you have to be able to grow them for the same or less than you can currently get them. No mater how you scale up the food computer, it will either wind up costing a fortune, or you will wind up growing in a "grow room" or greenhouse just like everybody is already doing.
Also if you have been around hydroponics for any length of time you would already know that all these data points the food computers are designed to collect, and as you say to use to grow better crops is information that's already available. Hydroponic researchers have been studying them for decades. Not necessarily for every single type of plant, but for most every common crop grown commercially, Even if the specific variable hasn't been studied in a particular crop, it has been studied in other crops, and you can apply that information to the crop your growing.
There are only three aspects to growing hydroponically that need vast improvements to make it more viable for indoor growers. 1, Cost effective lighting. 2. Cost efficient heating and cooling (both air and water) while it's fairly cheap and easy to heat the water, cooling it is another story. 3. Hand held cost effective EC/TDS/PPM meters that can actually tell you not only what specific elements are in the water, but the values of each individual element. I have already had that conversation about these three aspects, and was basically told that the people at MIT weren't working on any improvements in those areas.When I say improvements, I mean compared to what's currently in use and available.
While air conditioning that runs on solar energy doesn't cost anything to run, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a improvement or cost effective. Using solar energy doesn't mean the air conditioner uses less energy, or makes the air conditioner any more efficient. It just means that your using free energy from the sun to run it. Efficient solar cells have been around for decades, and you can get them at many hardware stores or online. When I talk about more energy efficient. I mean actually uses less energy to run regardless of the energy source (solar cell or wall outlet).
That's why I like the geothermal air conditioner design (subterranean heating and cooling system). The only moving part and energy draw is a simple fan. That uses very little energy, and works best in high humidity like in grow rooms and greenhouses. The major drawback is it takes digging to be able to construct, and you need somewhere you can dig a trench to place it. It also means that the greenhouse or grow room needs to be close to where it was placed in the ground. If sized properly it can cool everything from small rooms to large commercial greenhouses. But it's obviously not a violable option for growers in apartments or buildings. .
The issues facing indoor growers aren't in growing healthy plants, it's in doing so cost efficiently. Millions of people are growing healthy plants indoors hydroponically already, But trillions would be doing it if they could do it cost effectively. None of the data points you collect, nor all the computers you dedicate to collecting them and controlling those data inputs aren't making it more cost effective. Again that's just throwing money at it for the sake of throwing money at it because you can.
If I had to bet I would probably say that nobody at MIT working on the food computers really has any practical experience growing plants hydroponically. I say that because of the lack of understanding basic things about growing them I read in the few posts about actual growing plants there are. That doesn't mean they aren't smart, just inexperienced. The people at MIT have lots of knowledge about things I don't. That doesn't make me dumb, just inexperienced about those things.
I bring that up because in order to really be able to grow plants, you have to really want to grow plants in the first place. As far as I can tell, the food computers are a result of some people who love computers and gadgets trying to find something to apply their knowledge and skills to. But the problem is their passion is in computers, not plants. Instead of trying to invent grow rooms and climate controlled greenhouses that already exist, it would be a far better use of funds and resources to improve the energy efficiency like I mentioned, as well as develop better/more useful testing equipment,