Robotics startup with deep roots in plant science aims to feed the world through intelligent farming
Iron Ox, a robotics company reinventing farming from the ground up, has launched the world’s first autonomous farm, leveraging advancements in plant science, machine learning, and robotics. The indoor farm is focused on increasing the availability, quality and flavor of leafy greens including romaine lettuce, butterhead lettuce, and kale - as well as culinary herbs including basil, cilantro, and chives.
“At Iron Ox, we’ve designed our entire grow process with a robotics-first approach,” said Iron Ox co-founder and CEO Brandon Alexander, who previously worked at robotics lab Willow Garage and later Google X. “That means not just adding a robot to an existing process, but engineering everything, including our own hydroponic grow system, around our robots.”
For the average indoor farm, tasks like harvesting, seeding, and plant inspection are happening thousands of times a day. These labor-intensive, repetitive tasks are perfect for robotics, and by integrating machine learning and computer vision, Iron Ox is able to have its robots respond to an individual plant’s needs.
Iron Ox’s indoor farm is in full production, with two key proprietary robotic systems: a robotic arm and mobile transport. Both were designed and developed to work cohesively together, with the mobile transport using technology similar to that of a self-driving car - sensors and computer vision - and the robotic arm analyzing each plant at sub-millimeter scale. Proprietary cloud software acts as the brain, serving the ecosystem by monitoring data, ensuring cohesion across all parts, and keeping tabs on the environment in real time. While the technology is at work, the Iron Ox team is too with a designated plant science team focused on ensuring plant health, maximizing crop growth, setting and implementing standard operating procedures, and ensuring food safety across all systems.
“We’re not just growing sustainable and affordable produce; we’re capturing huge amounts of actionable data,” said Jon Binney, Iron Ox’s co-founder and CTO. “This trove of data means that we can make sure every plant leaving our farm is perfect, and we will have the world’s largest data set of plants in addition to highly accurate algorithms for disease identification.”
It’s estimated that 10 billion people will need to be fed by 2050, according to the World Resources Institute, requiring nearly double the amount of food produced today. With issues like ever-increasing labor scarcity and energy consumption plaguing farmers, Alexander and Binney - who worked together previously at Willow Garage - realized the traditional model of agriculture was not working for our growing population. Iron Ox’s approach to autonomous farming alleviates these key issues while enabling the company to grow 30 times more produce per acre than traditional farms. The company’s approach is also more sustainable than other modern farms, designed around leveraging the sun and augmented by high efficiency LED lighting, and a hydroponic growing system that uses 90% less water than traditional farming.
“We were immediately impressed by the Iron Ox team. They are experienced roboticists who are on a mission to redefine the agriculture industry,” said Vic Singh, founding general partner at Eniac Ventures. “By automating the entire farming process and collecting the largest data set around crop production, Iron Ox will drastically improve farming production and bring the cleanest, freshest produce, with the highest yields and efficiency in the market. We are excited to continue our close partnership with the team to build the farm of the future."