Robo-farming Iron Ox brings its first produce to the people

A startup called Iron Ox is now supplying (a single) store, but it may be hard for robots to really compete with human harvesters.

May 3, 2019

Iron Ox, a robot-farming startup, has started selling its robo-harvested greens at a grocery store in San Carlos, California.  

It’s a small test, but it could provide a path for future robot agriculture — if the robo-farmers ever learn to do a more efficient job than their human counterparts.

A small salad for the market, a giant leaf for robo-farmers

The partnership is an important proof-of-concept for Iron Ox, which was founded in 2015 and has raised $6.1m in funding so far. 

The test was tiny: Iron Ox is selling only 3 varieties and delivering produce to a single market once a week. 

And the business still relies on humans to plant and package the produce (robots only tend to it as it grows), raising questions about whether robots are ready for the salad bowl.

Are robots really raising the (salad) bar?

Iron Ox’s high-tech harvesting equipment —  robotic picking arms, hydroponic growing chambers, and autonomous plant transporters — still requires heavy human input.

But Iron Ox claims smaller footprints and proximity to stores (the first facility is 0.6 miles from its market) will cut down on both financial and environmental costs — once the robots are better farmers, that is.

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