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Meet Grover! The self-driving autonomous farming robot which got $53M funding

Iron Ox
Image credits: Iron Ox

Agriculture is the mainstream occupation for a vast majority of people in many countries all over the world. As per UN projections, agriculture will see an increase from 7.5 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050.

Currently, there are many difficulties faced by farmers worldwide, including extreme scarcity of water, not enough labour and much more to add to the list. This is where companies have started focusing on modern agriculture, which is built on the pillars of technology.

Talking about agritech practices, machines or robots do their jobs as these bulldoze acres of farmland and spray pesticides to ensure the production of massive amounts of food to feed the growing population. Still, it comes with a huge ecological cost. 

This is where, Bay Area-based Iron Ox plays a major role as it has redesigned the entire process to grow fresh produce by using less water and energy on smaller areas of land.

Recently, the autonomous farming startup closed $53 million in a Series C funding round led by Breakthrough Energy Venture, which brings its overall funding to USD $98 million. The Californian company intends to use the proceeds towards expanding operations in the US, scaling its manufacturing facilities, expand its team and ramp up R&D.

Sustainable robotic greenhouse

Established by Brandon Alexander and Jon Binney, Iron Ox practices robotics and AI to assure each individual plant gets the optimal levels of sunshine, water, and nutrients. This enables to grow exactly what’s needed and greatly reduce systemic food waste with a whopping 90 percent less water than traditional field farms.

The startup calls this approach ‘closed loop system’. We can imagine it to be a robotic greenhouse that uses the company’s proprietary harvesting technology. The concept is not to yield much more than the traditional farms but to do more or less the same amounts with a much smaller environmental footprint.

It uses collects data continuously from plants and use it to refine the process constantly, thereby improving plant and quantity of produce without burdening the environment. This precision towards our inputs leads to much lesser waste at every stage of the process. The novel approach to precision farming uses less water, limited energy, and emits less CO2, it also improves the quality of the produced food. Apparently, we have right what we need, which eliminates waste, thereby creating an environmentally sustainable food supply.

Meet Grover! The self-driving autonomous robot

Iron Ox’s Grover is the workhorse and backbone of the company’s greenhouse automation system. The self-driving robot navigates autonomously through the greenhouses to move the plant-growing modules to wherever they need to be depending on the sunlight, nutrition, water, or harvesting that they need.

The company is putting its greenhouse automation system to work at a 10,000-square foot greenhouse in Gilroy, California, where Grover moves pallets of Genovese Basil and a robotic arm system lifts the pallets for inspection.

This is similar to visiting a doctor. Sensors help check the water for nutrients, nitrogen, acidity, and any other ingredients needed for healthy growth. Based on this, customized doses of nutrients can be automatically delivered to the plants through the hydroponics system.

Is this the future of farming?

The company’s purpose is to make originating new produce carbon negative. Iron Ox has redesigned every step of the farming process, from seed to store shelf, reaching levels of accuracy that are impossible through traditional farming. 

Its produce is delicious, nutritious, sustainable, and local, greatly reducing food waste and the footprint of farming. Moreover, the company delivers the product to nearby retail outlets within a day of harvest, ensuring optimal freshness and taste.

As agriculture is long overdue for a technology update, this interesting combination of using AI and robotics will definitely become the future of farming as it helps bring about sustainable agricultural practices without comprising on the quality and yield.

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