Iron Ox

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Employer Summary

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Employer Summary
Iron Ox is using advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and growing best practices to grow as efficiently as possible. Iron Ox believes in integrating industry best practices and advancements in robotics to push the envelope on production farming. Beyond the vision, they are making this happen!
 
Iron Ox is building the first of what will be a network of autonomous, robot-run greenhouses near major US cities, complete with a fleet of trucks to ensure same-day delivery. The robots perform the planting, growing, and harvesting of the crops, with the goal of making the highest quality produce accessible to everyone, everywhere. Traditional outdoor farms don’t mesh with suburban sprawl, but Iron Ox's square-acre greenhouses will have a small footprint that can easily fit into dense urban or suburban areas. The company hopes to eliminate food deserts and offer a solution for areas around the world where premium produce is not accessible or abundant.

Iron Ox looks a lot like a tech company. One of its co-founders is an ex-Google engineer, and the company raised $5 million in Seed venture capital from top level investors like Y Combinator, Eniac, and Amplify Partners. Co-founder and CEO Brandon Alexander, who worked on Google’s Project Wing, figured out how to make multiple robots work together to set up one of its farms in just 3 or 4 months. Plants take six weeks to mature. One of these modular, square-acre farms could provide the same yearly yield as 30 acres of traditional farmland, Alexander says.

Growing up, Alexander spent summers working on his grandfather’s peanut, potato, and cotton farm that straddles Texas and Oklahoma. He’s seen his grandfather adopt self-guided tractors and other new technologies, giving the ability to scale the family farm from 40 to 5,000 acres in one generation.

Consider this: The average head of lettuce travels 2,000 miles before it reaches a grocery store. Fresh, local produce is hard to come by without paying a premium at a farmer’s market or CSA. At Iron Ox, people are empowered by technology to enable everyone to have access to high-quality, truly fresh produce. At the greenhouse in San Carlos, California, robots carefully seed, water, and care for each plant. The individual attention that each plant receives would not be feasible with human labor alone; automation enables the team to provide better produce. 

All Iron Ox plants are non-GMO varietals selected for taste -- not what’s easiest to ship — which contrasts with much that is currently on the market. Harvesting takes place daily, which ensures that delicious produce is hours fresh when it hits stores and restaurants. The hydroponic system uses 90% less water than an outdoor farm, and the water is purified through reverse osmosis for cleaner growing. Pesticides are never used, except for natural pest controllers like ladybugs. And given that all growing takes place indoors, there is no worry about animals or rodents stopping by for lunch.

Background

​F​ounders Brandon Alexander and Jon Binney met working at Willow Garage in 2012. Between Brandon’s experience at Google[x] and Jon’s PhD in robotics, they saw a future in robotics technology, and wanted to use it for good. Crop production was an easy fit; Brandon spent his childhood working on a farm and knew that the traditional model was open to innovation. 

They road-tripped across California, talking to dozens of farmers and their employees. They heard the same things: Labor is costly and hard to find, and high quality produce needs constant care. And it’s all expensive. So they worked out a plan for something smarter and cheaper. In 2016, they were accepted into the prestigious Y Combinator incubator program, and together they built Iron Ox, hiring talent from Boeing and Cornell University to make their new and improved greenhouse a reality. 

Now, during Phase 1, they are selling leafy greens to Bay Area restaurants and grocery stores. This is only the “tip of the iceberg.” With a scalable model that’s easy to implement in other markets, their strategy will take their greenhouses to food deserts and areas around the world.

Learn more about Iron Ox:
http://ironox.com
The Hydroponic, Robotic Future of Farming in Greenhouses:
https://www.wired.com/story/the-hydroponic-robotic-future-of-farming-in-greenhouses-at-iron-ox/

Your Next Head of Lettuce Grown by a Robot:
https://qz.com/1090021/your-next-head-of-lettuce-grown-by-a-robot/