Old MacDonald Had a Bot

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1 min read
Robot-powered indoor farming

A California grocer is stocking produce grown by robots, a sign of AI’s growing presence in agriculture.

What’s new: Iron Ox, a startup that grows greens in robot-tended warehouses, is supplying three vegetable varieties to Bianchini’s Grocery of San Carlos, CA. The producer grows 26,000 heads of lettuce and other greens annually in an 8,000 square foot space — 30 times more space-efficient than conventional farming with less chemical runoff and greenhouse gases.

How it works: The automated farm relies on human labor for planting and packaging. In between, machines are in charge:

  • Computers control nutrients for optimal growth
  • Plants are grown in hydroponic vats
  • Robot arms move plants from vat to vat as they grow
  • Autonomous carts ferry plants around the space.

Reality check: It’s not clear whether Iron Ox’s operation can be cost-effective. Bianchini’s sells its basil for a price on par with that of conventionally farmed options, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. But its baby lettuce goes for a lot more, according to The Verge.

Takeaway: The cost of farm labor is ballooning, and growers of many crops are scoping out automated alternatives. Iron Ox is betting that robotic agriculture ultimately will cost less in a smaller environmental footprint.


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