Iron Ox, a start-up based in Silicon Valley that focuses on robotic farming, have started selling lettuce and fresh greens in a California grocery.
In October 2018, Iron Ox opened its fully automated farm in San Carlos, California. With the entire farm process redesigned around robotics, the company said its hydroponic system can produce up to 30 times more yield per acre of land compared to traditional farms.
Fresh From The Robot Farm
Iron Ox now sells three types of greens — Genovese basil, red-veined sorrel, and baby head lettuce — at the family-owned grocery Bianchini's Market in San Carlos. It supplies the store with five to 10 cases of produce from its robot farm each week, and the greens are consistently sold out.
The prices of leafy greens from Iron Ox are not too exorbitant but a bit pricey. A 2-ounce box of red-veined sorrel costs $2.49, a 2-ounce box of Genevieve basil is priced at $2.99, and four heads of baby lettuce will sell for $4.99. These prices are said to be at par with Whole Foods, which offers artisanal lettuce and greens.
Farmed By Robots
The farm has a fully autonomous 1,000-pound robot that navigates the farm. The company uses a combination of robotic picking arms, hydroponic vats, and self-driving porters to grow the leafy vegetables. The robot can perform tasks such as fetching growth modules when the plant needs an operation such as watering and harvesting.
“Using hydroponics allows us to grow year-round, allows us to grow where there’s no arable land. Even here in California where were spoiled in fresh produce, there’s a lot of produce they cannot get year-round. Especially when it comes to things like herbs, like basil where they have to import it or not even able to get it ... We see definitely see this as absolutely scalable to cities not just in the United States, but all over," said Brandon Alexander, CEO of Iron Ox.
The distance from the robot farm to Bianchini's store is only 0.6 miles, and this ensures the freshness of the produce. This also translates to lower transportation costs and fewer food miles. Iron Ox said the greens it is producing for Bianchini's have a lesser physical footprint and less environmental impact than a typical head of lettuce.
Plant Science Team
Agricultural robots "automate" the slow and repetitive tasks in farming. According to the Robotics Industries Association, agricultural robots are increasing production yields for farmers in different ways. From drones to autonomous tractors to robotic arms, the technology is being deployed in creative and innovative applications. Robots are often used in harvesting and picking, weed control, pruning, spraying and thinning, sorting, and other utility platforms.
However, humans are still needed for a lot of the work at the Iron Ox robot farm. To address this concern, the company hired a Plant Science team to lead the growing process and provide human oversight to the robot farm. The robots just tend the plants while they're growing. Human laborers are tasked with planting the seedlings and packing the produce for delivery.