California-based robotics company Iron Ox is aiming to develop a fully autonomous indoor farm where software and robots fill the place of human agricultural workers, Technology Review reported.
The start-up is opening its first production facility in San Carlos, near San Francisco. The 8,000-square-foot indoor hydroponic facility will be producing leafy greens at a rate of roughly 26,000 heads a year.
The farm uses a series of robotic arms and movers, which individually pluck the plants from their hydroponic trays and transfer them to new trays as they increase in size, maximizing their health and output.
Big white mechanical movers carry the 800-pound water-filled trays around the facility.
At first, making sure these different machines worked together was tricky.
“We had different robots doing different tasks, but they weren’t integrated together into a production environment,” cofounder Brandon Alexander was quoted as saying.
So Iron Ox has developed software—nicknamed “The Brain”—to get them to collaborate. Like an all-seeing eye, it keeps watch over the farm, monitoring things like nitrogen levels, temperature, and robot location. It orchestrates both robot and human attention wherever it is needed.
Although most of the operation is automated, it still does require a bit of human input. Currently, workers help with seeding and processing of crops, but Alexander says he hopes to automate these steps.
Alexander sees it as solving two problems in one: the shortage of agricultural workers and the distances that fresh produce currently has to be shipped.