Farming is a long-standing, proud tradition…and one that is vital to society. This should go without saying–farms provide us with food, and without them, we’d have to rely on foraging and hunting. It’s also an area that hasn’t evolved much. True, advances have made chores like harvesting and plowing easier, but they still require a human to operate the equipment. With factories growing more autonomous, why not farms?
Enter Angus, the 1,000-pound farming robot. The mobile bot was built by California tech startup Iron Ox and is set to help care for the world’s first autonomous farm. Instead of having a farmer check on crops multiple times a day, Angus scans them and transfers them straight to the production center from the harvesting area. He’s assisted by an advanced hydroponic system and a cloud-based system called “The Brain.”
Iron Ox co-founders Brandon Alexander and Jon Binney used to work for robotics company Willow Garage when they realized they wanted to do more with their technology. They turned to the agricultural industry with its outdated methods and tiring work and began researching ways to revitalize it. After a road trip to talk with farmers, they determined the biggest problem: the labor shortage caused by newer generations’ lack of interest in farming.
Angus helps combat the labor shortage and the immense travel distances many crops go through. The farm is located entirely indoors, powered by sunlight. Various “grow modules” exist, each geared specifically for a different crop. Butter lettuce, for example, grows more quickly than basil, and the module will adjust accordingly. Once the crop is ready to harvest, “The Brain” tells Angus that it’s time to move the module from the main farming area to processing and packaging. From there, a new crop is planted, and the cycle begins anew.
“When The Brain says, ‘Hey, module 14 is harvesting this beautiful baby bok choy,’ our robot can actually go find that module and lift the whole thing up,” Alexander told Business Insider. Angus’ camera is equipped to scan each crop down to the sub-millimeter and collect additional information. This will help protect against disease and produce a higher yield. With all the advancements combined, Iron Ox is working to end the global food shortage and streamline the entire farming process. Below is a video of a Transplater Placing Plant in Action:
And they’re doing so without sacrificing flavor or taste. Several communities in California are already enjoying Iron Ox’s crops to glowing reviews. The nature of their farm also means there is no “off-season” for crops. Need a base for your salad that’s out of season? They can grow it for you, and it’s cheaper than having it imported. That said, buying produce that Angus helped on is still more expensive than traditional agriculture. They’re also limited to leafy greens, herbs, and the like, but other crops hope to be added soon.
Expansion beyond California is very likely in the cards for Iron Ox. “We want to basically be the best head of lettuce but also at the best price point. We can make sure we’re selling produce to places that don’t normally have access to produce,” Alexander told Fast Company. “It’s not just food deserts in urban areas. There’s also places in a lot of rural America where there’s maybe only a Dollar General- they’re not doing fresh produce today.”
No matter the location, Angus will keep at it, analyzing and harvesting crops for the masses to enjoy. Do note we say “crops”- they aren’t limited to traditional leafy greens. “People have this misconception that it’s just lettuce,” said Alexander. “But then they try our kale.”
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