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California-Based Small Farm Uses Robots to Grow Crops

Robots come in many different shapes and sizes. They will one day serve a whole slew of purposes, most of which will not result in job losses whatsoever. Particularly in the agricultural sector, robots can prove to be valuable allies. One farm in San Carlos, California is letting robots grow crops as of right now. It is a venture of the Iron Ox startup, although one wouldn’t necessarily think of it as a farm in the traditional sense.

Iron Ox Does Farming Differently

Unlike most places where people grow food, this particular farm in San Carlos is not your typical venture by any means. There is no soil, greenhouse, or even a machine to work the land and harvest crops. In fact, it looks like a regular brick-and-mortar location which could just as easily be an office like any other. It is inside where the magic happens, as Iron Ox has been experimenting with robot-driven agriculture for some time.

More specifically, there are two robot farmers on the premises as of right now. These two machines take care of a hundred different plants, which can yield some surprising results. The company got a lot of attention back in 2016, mainly because it doesn’t focus on creating artificial food. Instead, it is farming in a new and technology-oriented manner. In fact, the company is confident it can provide any type of vegetable or fruit like you would find at a farmer’s market.

Reaching such an ambitious goal will not happen overnight, but Iron Ox is making solid progress already. More specifically, the company is looking to establish a network of autonomous and robot-operated greenhouses in the vicinity of major US cities. Additionally, it will attempt to invest in a fleet of trucks to deliver its products on the same day to ensure everything is as fresh as it can be. One of the benefits of this venture is that Iron Ox can provide communities with fresh food while keeping its carbon footprint on the low side of the spectrum.

To give one example, the robots “employed” at this location can successfully grow and harvest lettuce. While this is not the most exciting vegetable in the world, going from an empty building to a fully operational small farm in four months is pretty impressive. All plants take around six weeks to mature. Co-founder Brandon Alexander is confident that one square-acre farm of this type can provide the same yield as 30 acres of traditional farmland over the course of a full year. It’s a rather ambitious plan, but one that certainly has a lot of potential.

Whether or not this can be seen as the natural evolution of farming remains a big question. It is certainly true there are fewer and fewer human-operated farms out there every year. Moreover, the low prices and high costs associated with this demanding profession have made agriculture a lot less appealing. Despite some major progress in terms of expansion, growing crops hasn’t evolved much in the past fifty years. Additionally, a lot of waste still gets generated in the process of farming, which could “easily” be solved using this robot-oriented approach.

All robots utilized by Iron Ox use artificial intelligence to work the full area of an individual greenhouse. Two robots are used to transport plants over to a robotic arm, which plants seeds and checks for diseases, among other things. For now, the company mainly focuses on lettuce and basil, but more crop types will eventually be supported. Large-field crops are not worth the time and hassle for now, but that is to be expected. It is an interesting take on things that may eventually benefit our society as a whole in a few years’ time.