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Farm Hands Will Be Robotic


Robotics is moving into the stereotyped labor intensive field … agriculture. Global issues have been increasing every year as resources have been continuously depleting. Issues like global warming, food supply, clean water, deforestation, etc have been and are still in need of a solution to remedy these problems. The new startup, Iron Ox, was founded by one of Google’s ex-engineers Brandon Alexander. It’s aim is to help with the food supply. Iron Ox’s goal is to “Make truly tasty and healthy greens that are good for people and for the planet. We don’t use GMOs or pesticides, and our greens are harvested and delivered daily for unbelievable freshness. All grown with innovative technology that gives plants the individual attention they need to thrive.” They will be able to provide fresh produce that is less costly to produce than greenhouse production, requires less human labor, and will occupy less farming space than traditional agriculture farms. Their greenhouses also don’t require that they be on farm land, making their location optimal and available anywhere they need to be implemented. Alexander says that their “square-acre farms could provide the same yearly yield as 30 acres of traditional farmland.” Produce from Iron Ox will be readily available because of the closeness in proximity to major US cities and their planned initiative of using a “fleet of trucks to ensure same-day delivery.”  Consumers can get their leafy produce within the same day, rather than waiting for their produce to travel hundreds of miles from traditional farm locations.

How is Robotic Farming Possible?

Iron Ox is made possible because of autonomous robots that have been learning how to best farm produce successfully. They’re able to identify good and bad produce with a camera that is capable of building a 3-D image of each plant. Iron Ox is in the process of creating learning techniques for its machines that can “automatically detect diseased plants and kick them out of the system before the sickness spreads.” The robotic farming is also less susceptible to pests because of its controlled environment. The robot will be able to not just detect desirable and undesirable plants, but will be able to automatically move plants to and from trays. Robotic farming is also becoming more ideal because of its ability to optimize its space. In traditional farming, produce must be spaced out for growth and cannot be moved until they are ready to be harvested. In Iron Ox, plants can be transported from their original trays, optimizing on the space available to them. Baby plants sit in trays where they soak in nutrient-rich water before growing and moving onto another tray. The movability of these plants is not the only factor optimizing space but so are the differently sized trays. These trays are specially designed and specifically spaced so that plants can be placed in closer proximity to each other. When the plants are first being nurtured, they’re placed in more closely packed trays before being transferred into trays with more space depending on their place on the growth cycle. Farming is being reinvented by using autonomous robots. This, however, isn’t going to have a major impact on human agricultural labor. There has already been a steady decline of farmers in the US where from 2002 to 2014 full-time farm workers have declined 20%. But robotic farming is still appears to be the future and soon we’ll be eating fresh produce curated and nurtured by a robot. Iron Ox plans to “sell to local chefs in the Bay Area, and then scale to grocery stores in early 2018.” We’re almost there.   Original Sources: Iron Ox, Wired, and Qz Image: Qz