The start-up Iron Ox established a fully autonomous farm in San Carlos, California. The San Carlos farm contains two robots responsible for planting, caring for and harvesting produce. One of the robots at the hydroponic indoor farmweighs 1,000 pounds and is roughly the size of a car. The farm relies on the robot to pick up trays of plants and transport them around the greenhouse. The second machine is a robotic arm that performs fine manipulation tasks, such as seeding and transplanting.
The mobile robot carries a tray of plants that are maturing to a processing area, in which the robotic arm will move baby plants in tightly packed trays to containers that are more spacious. By using these two robots, it optimizes space efficiency as plants are typically only provided the room they need throughout their life cycle.
Co-founder and CEO Brandon Alexander says Iron Ox is capable of maintaining 30 acres of outdoor farming in as little as a single acre on its robotic farm. The company, according to CNBC, desires to expand further with its small farms, near urban centers in hopes that produce is fresher upon arrival.
“Right now fresh produce really isn’t all that fresh. It’s traveling on average 2,000 miles from farm to grocery store, which means a lot of people are eating week-old lettuce or strawberries, ” Alexander explained.
The robots located at Iron Ox use machine learning as well, and AI to help detect pests and diseases. The robots can then remove infected plants before the problem spreads even further. “So it’s not just that the robots can move plants around and very efficiently, it’s also that they can help you avoid ever having a plant go bad,” co-founder and CTO Jon Binney explained.
While other companies, such as Bowery and Plenty aim to incorporate the latest technology, Iron Ox is the first in America to fully automate the growing process and design its system primarily based around the robot’s capabilities. “So one of the great things about the robots is that they don’t really get tired and they don’t really care what hours they work. And so as long as they’ve got juice in the batteries, they can keep going,” Binney said.
Iron Ox is currently only growing leafy greens and herbs, although, it plans to expand into other crops, including tomatoes in the upcoming years. Iron Ox raised $6 million in seed funding, which is led by Eniac Ventures and plans to begin selling its produce later this year.