Less is More with Iron Ox, the Robotic Farm with Big Dreams [GreenGut Weekly Find 9/18]

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View halloo, my faithful fellow nerds — we’ve made it to another Friday! 👏🏻 It’s been a zany week in Chief Nerd Land for me, so I figure why not do an equally unconventional GreenGut Weekly Find?

This week, we’re saying hello to Iron Ox, the urban agriculture startup that’s on track to take the U.S. by storm with its (nearly) autonomous hydroponic 💦 greenhouse farms. 🚜

Yep, here we go with the robots again. 🤖 I promise you this one is insanely cool.

10 billion. That’s the number of people projected to be on the planet 🌎 by 2050. And all of them have to eat. If you read any food security or sustainability news, you know our current food system isn’t equipped to handle it.

Iron Ox is developing one possible solution with its unique marriage of greenhouse farming, hydroponics 🌱 and robots. And it’s all backed by the dynamic duo of artificial intelligence and machine learning.


Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Growing Better Food, Autonomously

Iron Ox has been working on its indoor farming model since 2015 and now operates an almost entirely autonomous greenhouse farm in California. The only human input it requires is a small team to monitor things behind the scenes and make sure all is operating smoothly.

The greenhouse relies on a combination of sunlight and LED lighting to grow a range of leafy greens and herbs, although Iron Ox is looking to branch out into other types of produce. 🥗🍅🥒🍆🌽 This system, when used in conjunction with hydroponics, creates a highly efficient growing environment. An Iron Ox greenhouse uses approximately 90% less water and can produce 30 times more food per acre than traditional farming.

Since closing a Series B round earlier this month, Iron Ox is planning to expand across the country to provide fresh veggies to more people in areas where produce typically has to travel hundreds or thousands of miles 🛣 before it arrives at a store.

Fresher Food, Closer to Home

Picture it: buying just-picked greens 🥗 in the dead of winter. Grabbing a bunch of actually fresh herbs 🌱 at a store that before could only offer something in a plastic clamshell that had been on the shelves for who knows how long. But even better, picture improved access for people in urban areas where fresh veggies are more of a mystical pipe dream than a reality.

That’s where Iron Ox 🐂 is going with its “robotics first“ approach. Instead of designing a farm and inserting the robotic component later, the company builds its farms knowing robots will effectively be in charge. The robots handle everything: tending, monitoring, transplanting and detecting pest 🐛 and disease problems. This allows for a 100% pesticide-free, non-GMO approach with minimal loss and healthier plants.

Tapping into artificial intelligence and machine learning enables the robots to become better “farmers.” The more data Iron Ox is able to collect, the more efficient the process will become, and the healthier the plants will be at the time of harvest.

Here’s what it looks like in action:

But Why So Much Tech?

“We have made it our mission to address food security by developing autonomous greenhouses that grow a variety of local and consistently delicious food for everyone,” CEO and co-founder Brandon Alexander explained in a release on Business Wire.

Putting more greenhouses in locations where fresh food access is currently difficult can enable more people to eat well 🍴 and live healthier lives 🏃🏼 overall. It also has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of some of the most commonly consumed produce. 🚛

And that, again, is where the data comes in. Improving efficiency reduces costs, thereby making produce more accessible across price points. It’s a win-win in a world where the fragility of the food system is only just beginning to be understood.

Developments in this area continue to excite me. I can see concepts like what’s happening at Iron Ox complementing traditional farming to make fresh, local food available everywhere. A future where as much produce as possible is grown 🌿 close to the point of sale is a bright one, in my opinion.

And the health coach in me can’t help being excited by the idea that more people could be eating — and feeding their families — better without stretching their budgets, even if they don’t live near a traditional farm, a farmers market or even a grocery store. 🛒

How about you? Where do you see tech like Iron Ox robotics fitting into the future of our food system? 👇🏻

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