According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock such as dairy cows, agricultural soils, and agricultural efforts to produce rice. This means we urgently need to change the way we produce food.
Silicon Valley startup IronOx has been busy doing just that by using automation. It has moved crops indoors, using robots to manage them and put them under the watchful eye of smart cameras.
It has three new robots working at its factory: Grover, Ada and Max. The first moves the plant trays to the photo zone for inspection, the second handles individual plants, and the third handles the amount of water and nutrients to be given to the plants based on what the camera reports.
“We did very high-resolution scans of all the plants,” said David Silver, director of robotics at CNET. “This allows us to make sure they’re growing on track, predict how much we’ll have at harvest, and see if intervention is required.”
This complex system handles various interventions such as water, nutrients, light, temperature and humidity, resulting in what IronOx calls “renewable food”. The company’s crops provide high quality and high yields, and ensure that surplus irrigation water is reused along with any unconsumed nutrients.
Additionally, IronOnx ensures that only the right amount of fertilizer is used in its process, as it is a major source of methane, one of the most powerful and dangerous greenhouse gases.
“Fertilizers require a lot of energy to produce and emit a lot of greenhouse gases,” Silver said. “The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in the world is comparable to the world’s transportation. If we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we must focus on the agricultural sector.”
IronOx has trained artificial intelligence to act according to the best human farming techniques. “That’s how we train the system with knowledge experts,” Silver explained, “you decouple action from mobility.”
It should be noted that the company still uses humans to harvest and package the produce. However, one does have to wonder if these jobs will eventually be replaced by robots as well. This brings us to an important question: Will robots one day handle all farming?
Experts believe that industrial automation will only lead to new and improved jobs for humans. After all, someone needs to oversee the automated process. But will there be enough jobs to address all the jobs lost to automation? No matter how worrisome the idea is, we can’t stop growth, and automation is clearly here to stay, especially since it offers a more sustainable way of doing things Way.
Time will tell how automation will develop, but hopefully we can adapt and learn to thrive with it.