At the beginning of October this year, start-up Iron Ox created a fully autonomous farm in San Carlos, California. The company wants to improve today’s farming using AI and heavy machinery.
Has Iron Ox found an answer to constantly growing population needing more and more food as well as labor and crops shortages? They created two robots and an 8000 square feet (around 743 square meter) greenhouse to care about all produce. It’s impressive, isn’t it?
One of the robots is roughly as big as a car. It is responsible for moving and lifting trays of plants around the building and transporting them to the processing area. There, the second robot takes care of seeding, transplanting and all of different tasks concerning usage of knowledge, not mechanical ones. It uses AI and machine learning. It can see in 3D, it recognizes diseases, pests, sizes, types of leaves etc. They both are controlled by cloud-bases AI software called “The brain” that tells them exactly what to do according to the situation given.
What else is extraordinary about this project? Firstly, plants are smartly packed. They are sorted according to their age, water, light and other natural requirements. Nothing goes to waste during the whole operation. Company claims that this farm is able to “grow 30 times more plants than traditional farms”. Secondly, everything is done in sterile environment. And finally, robots can work 24 hours a day, with no break, no food, no exhaustion. They are always efficient and ready to be used. They have no bad days or diseases. They don’t have emotions, which can affect their involvement in work. They don’t cheat, steal or slob around. They are highly dependable, easy to control and predictable. We can’t say the same about the people.
The aim of the company is to establish farms near big cities, so people could eat fresher products. At the same time, they want to save natural resources like water, soil, solar energy etc. The co-founder and CEO of Iron Ox, Brandon Alexander claims that after working for many engineering companies (including Google’s research lab X and influential robotics incubator Willow Garage) he decided that he wants to do something that has direct impact on people’s lives. Alexander’s interest in farming came partly from his background. His granddad worked as a farmer and complained that he “couldn’t get enough help”.
Iron Ox plants are “very manual products”, but everything seems to be on the right track to develop this idea, open new greenhouses, build new robots and speed up the process. Company plans to open a few new farms next year and sell its produces among entire California. Their first targets are restaurants.
Even Brandon agrees that robots will not be able to do everything without humans. According to willrobotstakemyjob.com only 5% of farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers will be switched with robots. The site’s verdict is that automation risk level is “totally safe”. What do you think? Do you agree with this site or your views are closer to Brandon Alexander who places hopes on Iron Ox? Should Brandon go hard or go home in your opinion?