Robots Already Growing the Leafy Greens for the Salad of the Future
A startup in the USA is working on the first fully automated farm.
Robots are making radical changes in our lives. With the process starting a few decades ago in automotive plants, now driverless cars are becoming a reality. However, there are other areas ripe for the intervention of robots, such as medicine, farming or agriculture. These two last sectors are becoming increasingly important in a world with more mouths to feed every day and limited resources to achieve it. But are fully automated farms currently viable? There is a company in the USA that believes so, and they are working hard to prove it.
It’s called Iron Ox and, from their headquarters in California, they are experimenting with the cultivation of lettuces and other leafy greens, as well as culinary herbs including basil, cilantro, and chives. Currently, their facilities have reduced human labor -in short supply- to the bare minimum, with a small team of scientists and experts overseeing the whole process. The medium-term goal is to have a production chain, from seed to harvest, entirely managed by robots. According to the founders, the key for a fully automated farm is designing it from the ground instead of implementing technological innovations in current facilities. Thus, besides working with robots, they have opted for hydroponic cultivation techniques and low-consumption LED lighting. But let’s go back to the robotic side of things. At IronOx they have combined robots equipped with articulated arms and stereoscopic vision that assesses the development of the plants and large moving platforms able to lift the plant-trays and expose them to the right amount of light. These mobile robots also feature collision-detection systems and sensors that monitor potential plagues and growth issues.
The endless number of parameters that need to be considered has led them to develop a cloud-based software. They call it “The Brain” and it supervises every part of the technological process to ensure a reliable and replicable outcome. In term, the collected data will allow optimizing the production of food.
A new approach to cultivation
The figures claimed by these entrepreneurs are certainly striking: 90% less water consumption and 30% more production per acre. The endgame of this technological project is to produce large crops in the outskirts of big cities, thus reducing haulage costs and pollution. Additionally, the strict control of the cultivation process will enable the production of crops with a consistent quality all year round. The employees at Iron Ox are, for the time being, the only ones enjoying robotic salad buffet lunches, but the company intends to start selling its produce to restaurants and shops in the area by 2019.