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Human-centric food delivery in the age of autonomous commerce

We need human-centric intelligent agents in the food value chain, to maximize health, ecology, economy, convenience, and culture

Photo of Mark Bünger
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Marsbound

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Marsbound LLC is our legal entity in the US (Mark and Lucas). All four individual collaborators are establishing Futurity Studio, to be incorporated in Spain in 2020. We are: Lucas Lorenzo Peña http://lucaslorenzopena.com/ https://www.linkedin.com/in/lucaslpena/ Cecilia MoSze Tham http://ceciliatham.com/ https://www.linkedin.com/in/ceciliatham/ Mark Bünger https://www.linkedin.com/in/markbunger/ Ariadna (“Ari”) Cuffi Teixido https://www.linkedin.com/in/ariadna-cuffi-teixido/ Outside of the formal core project team, we will collaborate with local farms, restaurants, markets, delivery companies, and others such as Ari’s family farm and Cecilia’s cafe.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.thefuturity.studio/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

San Francisco

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

USA

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Our focus is Barcelona, a city in Spain that covers an area of 101.4 km2, and the surrounding region of Catalonia which is 32,108 km2

What country is your selected Place located in?

Spain

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Our team reflects the diverse population of Barcelona, as do our individual relationships to the city. Ari is a Catalonia native, whose farm has been in the family for centuries, and lies just outside the city limits. Hong Kong-born Cecilia moved here to be with a Spanish partner 18 years ago; since then she has created two children and three local businesses (a café, a co-working space, and a school), and is an advisor to the city government. Lucas is an Afro-Latino New Yorker, now a permanent resident teaching architecture and design at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. Mark is a German-born, San Francisco-based technology entrepreneur who visited Barcelona two years ago for a conference, stayed for this project, and now splits his time between the two cities. We all found each other here, working together to create a better future of commerce and food.

 

We are collaborators and also neighbors in the formerly-industrial Poblenou “Maker District” @22 district – a testbed of urban innovation. Our friends and colleagues are founders of food-connected community organizations like:

 

  1. Farmers (Ari’s family farm, Lucas’s collaborators at Valldaura Farm)

  2. Restaurants (Cecilia’s FabCafe/FOSC, Leka)

  3. La Colmena (fresh food delivery company that delivers fresh produce at Cecilia’s co-working)

  1. Food innovators (Plat Institute of Augmented Gastronomy, Sibo Chinese Gastro Bar)

  2. Palo Alto food market

  3. Glovo (delivery company)

  4. Waste management (City of Barcelona, where Cecilia is an advisor)

 

https://www.sibogastro.com/

http://www.plat.cat/

https://valldaura.net/labs/

https://fabcafe.com/barcelona/

https://lacolmenaquedicesi.es/es/assemblies/10518

https://palomarketfest.com/en/exhibitor/street-food-26



Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Barcelona is consistently ranked one of the world’s top ten foodie cities.[1] Outdoor cafes, restaurants, and markets are found on nearly every block. Nearby, we are surrounded by rich and productive farms giving us fresh meats, cheeses, and olives; the wineries of Penedès and Alella; and the Mediterranean sea provides fresh seafood every day. The weather is temperate year-round, and usually clear and sunny, so many of our annual festivals are outdoors and centered on food, like the springtime calçotadas that are beginning again soon. Largely because of our famously-healthy Mediterranean diet, we were recently ranked as the healthiest nation in the world by Bloomberg.

Barcelona has been inhabited since Roman times – the walls still stand - and has been a cultural and culinary crossroads for more than 2000 years. For 200 years it was under Muslim rule; in medieval times it was part of France and Spain, and today it is the capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia. This diversity has always been reflected in the food, and today it is also reflected in the population: about 60% of the 1.7 million are native Catalonians, with about 20% from other regions of Spain, and 20% expatriates – many of them young tech freelancers, sustainability entrepreneurs, and students. But most striking is the tourist population, with 20 million annual visitors, many of whom come here for culinary vacations.

In addition to its rich heritage, Barcelona is a technology hub, home to more than 800 startups[2] and one of the top five in Europe according to the Financial Times.[3] It’s also one of the world’s leading citizen-centric “smart” cities, looking to incorporate technology to advance progressive causes and improve local life. Our team has been part of this work: Lucas has worked extensively on grassroots data projects via the IaaC fablab, and Cecilia has served as a technology advisor to the city government. For these reasons, Barcelona residents are some of Europe’s earliest adopters of new ideas, devices, and business models.  

While these advantages are certainly blessings, they are not without their downsides. The explosion of budget flights in Europe and the local government’s efforts to boost tourism since the 2008 recession have led to problems like gentrification. Economic migrants and digital nomads bring new ethnic cuisine and hipster cafes that are seen by some as diluting the historical character of the city. The political tensions between the Spanish government and Catalan separatists have led to large, sometimes disruptive protests and occasional violent clashes. More recently, the government has tried to control these issues with limited results.


Population

Barcelona proper: 1.6 million

Metropolitan region: 5.5 million

Annual tourists: 20 million



[1] https://www.foodandwine.com/travel/worlds-best-food-cities-barcelona and https://www.forbes.com/sites/lealane/2017/12/13/top-10-food-cities-in-the-world-numbers-five-seven-and-one-are-in-spain/

[2] https://barcelonatechcity.com/en/about/

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/6ec41804-ce33-11e9-b018-ca4456540ea6



What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

100

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

1600000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment 2020: Food delivery increases packaging, food waste, vehicle emissions, and congestion. 2050: Explosive growth in waste. More consumers use food delivery, more often, increasing waste 50-100x. Even with electric cars and recyclable packaging, it could still rise 10x.

Diets 2020: Less-healthy meals and “food ignorance”. Meal delivery shifts meals from home-cooked to less-healthy ingredients (more sugar and salt) and larger portions. Grocery delivery favors big chains that can afford exclusive deals with food delivery firms. 2050: Uniform, fake-health foods. Local flavors, spices and specialties that require hand preparation or don’t travel well, like jamon and sangria, lose to foods like pizza and vodka. “New” foods claim false benefits (e.g. wheatgrass vs cancer) while the healthy Mediterranean diet is lost.

Economics 2020: Food delivery consolidates economic power in big chains and delivery firms (Glovo is Spain’s 2nd “tech unicorn” valued €1B+) over local farms, markets and restaurants. Delivery workers are paid poorly. Local restaurants (and even non-food retailers) lose revenue as locals and tourists make fewer trips to markets and restaurants. 2050: Global giants ru(i)n the economy. In 2000, Amazon only sold books, and Google was only a search engine. By 2050, food delivery is part of big tech, delivering and rebranding everything. A few restaurants survive as “dark kitchens,” but most local restaurants, markets and other retailers close. Small-scale farmers and fishers that can’t supply large quantities of cheap ingredients die out.

Culture 2020: Food delivery decreases social interaction around food. Making fewer meals at home means less connection with family and friends. People walk less to stores and markets, and interact less with each other, since they stay in homes or offices. 2050: Food culture is lost to consumerism. Hand-made meals are a relic of the past for hobbyists, like home-made clothing or appliance repair. No one knows where their food came from, any more than they know who made their shirt or iPhone. Finding new friends and romance doesn’t happen in public spaces - only online.

Technology 2020: Mobile apps are spreading. Delivery apps favor restaurants and grocery chains that pay for ads and search placement. Big tech takes our private data and uses it to train predictive algorithms to sell ads, pushing food and other goods. 2050: Autonomous commerce is the norm. Big data and centralized AI lock out human alternatives. Agents like Alexa orchestrate our lives. Robotic kitchens and autonomous delivery vehicles replace human cooks and drivers.

Policy 2020: Short-term, reactive thinking. In 2010, local politicians fought to attract tourists and gig jobs; today they take reactive steps to limit tourism, AirBNB, and Uber (Uber countered by launching food delivery service here). Government started to regulate food delivery (fining Deliveroo), but it currently lacks vision. 2050: Local policymakers lose control to global consumer-delivery giants. As food becomes just another product delivered by global giants, with bigger ad budgets and better slogans, politicians lose the money and the votes to influence them.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

The main driver of change in Barcelona’s food ecosystem of today, is technology. Until five years ago, technology played little role in food-related systems here. Now apps and agents like Alexa and Siri enable mobile commerce, which is not only how locals and tourists find food types and vendors, but also learn about taste, quality, location, price etc. These technologies integrate advertisements and promotions but don’t take diet, CO2 footprint, or other factors into account. They are set to shift not only food economics, but also diet, culture, policy, and environmental balance. Artificial intelligence, business consolidation, and global presence will make food delivery an even more powerful force to deal with.

This is not all bad: food delivery saves families time and money; can diversify food choices, increase satisfaction and health; and even lead to less waste from packaging and emissions. But it won’t achieve these goals if it continues “business as usual” reinforcing linear and siloed supply chains of today, by adding a new hierarchy of power based on data and money funneled in through apps.

Our vision is a new type of technology that can directly interconnect the various actors in Barcelona’s food ecosystem. We propose to create:

1. Values-based consumption. The vast majority of consumers want to eat healthy, protect the environment, and support social well-being – but only a small minority know how or can.[1] Our agents append eco, health, and social impact ratings to consumers’ food preferences and plans, finding foods and vendors that best satisfy their goals.

2. Human-centric intelligent agents on users’ devices. Most apps and agents just send user searches, ad clicks, personal data, and actions to a delivery company’s central servers, to be stored and processed for that company’s benefit. Taking advantage of the increasing data storage and processing power on tomorrow’s smartphones, our agents bring the food information to the user’s device, where it privately and securely helps the user select food options that best fit the user’s own values.

3. Democratic, peer-to-peer decentralized networks. Our agents avoid hierarchical networks and centralized servers, by coordinating directly with one another to connect consumers to each other and to food providers nearby. This protects privacy and prevents economic consolidation, and helps reduce emissions and packaging by combining delivery trips. It promotes social cohesion by connecting nearby neighbors.

4. Collaborative planning and purchasing. Our agents create a collective plan and forecast for an entire neighborhood of users, giving the upstream food supply chain a clearer picture of demand. This helps optimize upstream production and logistics, reducing food waste and transport emissions.

4. A circular economy. Local producer-consumer networks count food at risk of spoilage or loss, selling first to maximize utility and cut waste.

[1] https://hbr.org/2019/07/the-elusive-green-consumer

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Much of the problem of how technology affects the economy, and how the economy affects the food supply chain, human health, and the environment, all results from an obsession with growth and scale. The system overall can only grow at a natural pace, so when certain companies or technologies grow faster than that, they have to do so at the expense of the diversity of the economy and the ecosystem.

This way, more people can more easily express the diversity of their goals and preferences for health, the environment, social justice, and still have affordable and convenient food.

Everybody wins - the farmer, the restaurant, the delivery person, and of course the person consuming the food. Technology is the lever, and the economy follows.

We believe that our technology will help communities become stronger. Rather than making communities conform to its structure, it will conform to theirs, and all these diverse participants in the ecosystem will be able to work together for better mutual benefit.

In the 30 years to 2050, we'll see this much change as we've seen in the last 60. We don't know what their challenges will be then, but we want them to look back at us the way we look at the revolutionaries of the 1990s and the 1960s. We want to inspire them with what we're doing now, Not tearing things down but challenging the systems you love to make them even better. We hope to have the opportunity to benefit from the process and insight of the food vision prize.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

We’re Cecilia, Lucas, Mark, and Ari. We're from all over the world, but we found each other here in Barcelona. This project brings together our backgrounds, our strengths, and our hopes for the future - here in our place, and for the rest of the world.

We've started cafes, written code, studied strategy, and farmed the land, and in all these aspects of human society we see a richly interwoven tapestry. Food is both a basic necessity, and one of the most colorful and creative expressions of our eclectic human nature. It touches on the economy, culture, the environment, and so many more things. Looking at how all of these factors influence each other, we see that technology plays a huge role both in solving problems, but also in creating them. And if current trends continue it could have a devastating effect. Or, if we adjust the course slightly now, it can solve problems in ways and with speed that no one thought imaginable.

Our Focus

Our specific focus is on the urban environment: prosperous cities like ours, where the population is growing and shopping habits are changing - especially around food.

Delivering meals from restaurants and finished kits in groceries from stores is a massive new trend, one that's projected to drive about $3 trillion in value by 2030, as the urban population hits 7 billion, incomes rise, access to information technology becomes ubiquitous, and more people can afford to order food.

Much of our problems with food today - from being environmentally unsustainable to bad for our health - result from the fact that we have so many choices and so much information .

We're simply not able to read every label and visit every store, to find the products that meet our financial, practical, health, ecological, and social priorities.

We can't do these things, but our software based agents can. We are designing agents that convert peoples’ priorities into actionable, achievable plans on all these factors.

Transform food’s supply chain

Even in Barcelona’s modern food supply chains ,each step from farm to plate is isolated in silos. Very little information flows upstream or downstream, so supply and demand are often a surprise .

Today, delivery systems are stepping in gathering more information about consumer demand, but hoarding it - and exacerbating the need for near-instant delivery

If other areas of electronic-commerce are an indicator, food delivery companies will soon have near monopolies on the information about demand. They’ll use that to exert pressure on all the upstream actors in the supply chain of food ,from our cafes and restaurants to our farms in fishers.

But there's an alternative network structure: instead of a hierarchy we can have an interconnected web, where each actor in the supply chain has an agent operating and communicating on its behalf. These agents can optimize not only cost and delivery time but other factors like environmental health and social goals.

Looking at how food subsystems interact, we see a spectrum of scale from diet (which works inside People) to environment (which encompasses the Planet and even the sun).

In between, other systems interact at the interface between Person and Planet - what we call Place. We mapped out detailed ways in which these systems interact with each other and on themselves over time.

Agent solutions interconnecting the challenges

Influences

Economics
Diet
Tech
Culture
Policy
Enviro
Economics
Agents could act, coordinate and plan accordingly between other local and global food stakeholders to drive for overall optimization
Ability for agents to autonomously negotiate pricing IRT will allow more affordable and healthier food choices for people.
Agents can track and project life cycles of technology hardware waste. This data can be used to upcycle raw materials to produce new products and industries relating to technology.
N/A
Emergent groups and their consumer trend-data can help governments in projecting future landscapes of commercial policy.
Agents will be able to optimize economic goals that will directly result in optimization of resources and logistics therefore reducing impact on the environment.
Diet
Having data on diets will allow producers to adjust accordingly to optimize food production and resources.
Agents could act, coordinate and plan accordingly between other local and global diet trends to drive for overall optimization
With enough data, agents could coordinate projections related to industry growth and innovation. These projections could be used to funnel capital and further technological development.
N/A
N/A
The ability to effortlessly and affordably eat more healthily with environmental impact computed within will directly affect the global impact
Tech
Agents with data and intelligence, local and global will be able to optimize economics outcome by reducing transaction friction and unnecessary expenditures.
Access to anonymize data and intelligence in the data will allow consumers to have better significantly better food purchases and improve their diet.
Agents can act, coordinate and plan accordingly between other local and global technological shifts to drive for overall optimization
N/A
Gathering distributed data from consumers can help drive both hyper-localized and general policy as it related to consumer goods, their manufacturing and importation.
Data insights and projections can simulate ecological impacts of goods within future supply chains.
Culture
Culturally relevant consumption habits can be not only projected, but optimized and streamlined. Allowing for more fluid consumption of these goods.
In regions where culture-consumption related to food is not uniformly shared in a locale, agents might suggest new food products to optimize logistic challenges for those outside the cultural foci.
N/A
Agents could act, coordinate and plan accordingly between other local and global cultural shifts to drive for overall optimization
Better insights related to the consumption habits of those in underrepresented groups, are gathered and shared with other agents and entities at both micro and macro scales.

Policy
Policy for food production could be dynamically regulated by agents to influence local food pricing in response to local needs and challenges.
Agents can operate on policy in different levels to directly inform and influence/recommend local consumer agents on their food choices.
Agents can drive policy to support technology infrastructure to reinforce distributed-data insights.
N/A
Agents could act, coordinate and plan accordingly between other local and global policy makers to drive for overall optimization
Agents can simulate consumer policy as its relates to environmental stressors.
Enviro
Agents will be able to compute the value from the consumer on environmental impact to adjust for the total true cost of the end food product.
Agents with information about environmental impact can nudge consumer agents to opt for alternatives that are still good (or even better) for their diet and environment.
N/A
N/A
Agents with IRT data of the environmental impact can dynamic change the policy.
Agents could act, coordinate and plan accordingly between other local and global environmental impact to drive for overall optimization

Returning agency to humans

Technology will certainly continue to provide an increasing amount of data and processing power – but who will be in control of is still an open question. Centralized systems will consolidate this power.

As we see our distributed agents being deployed, each player in the food ecosystem can retain “agency” - if the agents are designed with open source community based principles in mind not only will this address problems in Barcelona at the city level, but at the neighborhood level and bigger scales as well .

Systems thinking embodied for food

Our distributed, user-centric agents embody many of the concepts of systems thinking, because we began with that approach in mind. Many of the problems that face our food systems, as well as our technological environments - from social media, to online commerce to entertainment and more - are caused because these once-open systems forgot their origins on their path to scale.

Transformation

Much of the problem of how technology affects the economy, and how the economy affects the food supply chain, human health, and the environment, all results from an obsession with growth and scale. The system overall can only grow at a natural pace, so when certain companies or technologies grow faster than that, they have to do so at the expense of the diversity of the economy and the ecosystem.

This way, more people can more easily express the diversity of their goals and preferences for health, the environment, social justice, and still have affordable and convenient food.

Everybody wins - the farmer, the restaurant, the delivery person, and of course the person consuming the food. Technology is the lever, and the economy follows.

We believe that our technology will help communities become stronger. Rather than making communities conform to its structure, it will conform to theirs, and all these diverse participants in the ecosystem will be able to work together for better mutual benefit.

By 2050 we believe we'll see this much change again. We don't know what their challenges will be then, but we want them to look back at us the way we look at the revolutionaries of the 1990s and the 1960s. We want to inspire them with what we're doing now, Not tearing things down but challenging the systems you love to make them even better. We hope to have the opportunity to benefit from the process and insight of the food vision prize.

Thank you!

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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