The agricultural worker shortage means that many farms are turning to automation to assist with tasks like hauling equipment, precision weeding and even driving tractors. But startup Iron Ox is looking to take this to the next level by creating farms completely run by robots.
As MIT Technology Review reports, Iron Ox debuted its autonomous farm facility in San Carlos, CA yesterday. It’s an 8,000 square foot hydroponic facility that can grow up to 26,000 heads of leafy greens per year.
What sets Iron Ox apart from other indoor grow facilities is the robots. Big robots (carefully) move 800 pound water and plant-filled trays around the building, while mechanical arms transfer plants as they grow into larger hydroponic bays. All of this automated action is coordinated by a centralized “Brain” that monitors growing conditions and coordinates the movements of the robots.
For now, Iron Ox isn’t totally human-free. People are still required to seed and process crops, but the company plans to automate those tasks as well.
Iron Ox’s mission is to bring farming closer to cities, thus reducing the need to transport long distances. It’s certainly not alone in this mission. Projects like Square Roots and Freight Farms aim to do that as well, while CropOne is looking to build the largest indoor vertical farm in the world.
The other thing all these companies have in common in their crop: leafy greens. City dwellers better love their roughage, as a lot of it will be produced in these up and coming grow facilities.
Iron Ox is bringing a level of industrial automation to indoor farming, developing robots that can work around the clock, constantly monitoring, tending and raising crops. Coverage of the company’s launch did not include pricing, but one has to imagine that those hulking robots don’t come cheap, at least in terms of upfront costs. The question now is whether Iron Ox can get its robot-run facilities to a price that makes sense.