AI Case Study
Iron Ox fully automates the growing process end-to-end with the potential of 30 times more produce than traditional farms
Iron Ox has launched the first fully automated farm. It depends on a robotic arm equipped with a camera and computer vision systems to analyse plants in extreme detail and complete physical tasks like planting and seeding. Using similar to self-driving car technology, the farm also consists of a mobile transport system that delivers harvested produce and AI feeds on data from embedded sensors to detect pests and forecast diseases. The farm has the potential of 30 times higher produce per acre in comparison with traditional farms.
"The looming crisis inspired the cofounders of Iron Ox, a three-year-old San Carlos, California-based startup, to tap a database of horticultural knowledge and robotics in designing an indoor farm for the future. Iron Ox isn’t the only company to apply automation to farming — New Jersey’s AeroFarms leans heavily on intelligent machines, as do startups Bower and Plenty — but it claims it’s the first to fully automate the growing process end-to-end.
Iron Ox’s first 1,000-square-foot farm, which is in full production as of this week [October 3, 2018], taps a robotic arm equipped with a camera and computer vision systems that can analyze plants at sub-millimeter scale and execute tasks like planting and seeding. A 1,000-pound mobile transport system roughly the size of a car, meanwhile, delivers harvested produce — including leafy greens such as romaine, butterhead, and kale and herbs like basil, cilantro, and chives — using sensors and collision avoidance systems “similar to that of a self-driving car.” Cloud-hosted software acts as a sort of brain for the system, ingesting data from embedded sensors and using artificial intelligence (AI) to detect pests, forecast diseases, and “ensure cohesion across all parts.”
It might sound like pricey tech, but Alexander and company said they worked to keep costs down by using off-the-shelf parts and implementing a scalable transport system. (The plants, which grow in a tightly spaced grid pattern, are delivered via trays.) Other savings come from high-efficiency LED lighting and a hydroponic growing system that cuts down on unnecessary water usage by 90 percent.
At the moment, Iron Ox isn’t an entirely autonomous operation — a plant science team taps the data coming in to formulate standard operating procedures to ensure food safety, plant health, and crop growth."
"Farming is hard work. The more than 2 million farms in the U.S. employ roughly 925,000 people to perform tasks like planting, seeding, and inspection, contributing to total production expenses of $350 billion in 2017. But without an increase in agricultural productivity of at least 60 percent, the world might not grow enough for the projected global population by 2050."
"This hybrid approach enables the farm to respond to individual plant’s needs, Binney says, and has the potential to achieve 30 times more produce per acre (about 26,000 heads of lettuce and other greens) than traditional growing operations."