This AI agricultural robot can help lower greenhouse gas emissions, company claims

IronOx is using robots to grow food more sustainably.
Loukia Papadopoulos
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An IronOx robot at work

IronOx  

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 11 percent of 2020 greenhouse gas emissions came from agriculture efforts from livestock such as cows, agricultural soils, and rice production. This means that we have a desperate need to change how we produce our food.

Automation to the rescue

Silicon Valley startup IronOx has been busy doing just that by using automation. It has moved crops indoors, used robots to manage them, and put them under the watchful eyes of smart cameras. The purpose? To grow more and better efficiently and sustainably, according to an article by CNET published on Saturday.

It has three new robots working at its facility: Grover, Ada, and Max. The first moves trays of plants to a photo bay for inspection, the second tackles individual plants, and the third handles the amount of water and nutrients to be given to plants based on what the cameras report.

This AI agricultural robot can help lower greenhouse gas emissions, company claims
Grover in action.

"We get a really high-resolution scan of all the plants," said David Silver, the director of robotics at CNET.

"This lets us make sure they're growing on track, predict how much we're going to have at harvest and see if an intervention is needed."

This complex system takes care of all sorts of interventions such as water, nutrients, light, temperature, and humidity, resulting in what IronOx calls "renewable food."

The company’s crops provide high quality and yield and ensure residual irrigation water is reused along with any unconsumed nutrients.

In addition, IronOnx ensures only the right amount of fertilizer is used in its processes since it is a major source of methane, one of the most powerful and dangerous greenhouse gasses.

This AI agricultural robot can help lower greenhouse gas emissions, company claims
The IronOx facility.

"Fertilizer requires a lot of energy to produce and emits a lot of greenhouse gasses," said Silver.

"The total greenhouse gas emissions of world agriculture is comparable to world transportation. If we want to reduce greenhouse gasses, we have to look at the agriculture sector."

The best human farming techniques

IronOx has trained the AI to function according to the best human farming techniques. “That's how we train the system, with knowledge experts," explained Silver. "You decouple action from mobility.”

If you are worried about robots completely taking over, it should be noted that the company still uses human staff to harvest and pack the produce.

However, one does have to wonder whether these jobs will also be eventually replaced by robots. This brings us to an important question: will there be a day when robots handle all of agriculture?

This AI agricultural robot can help lower greenhouse gas emissions, company claims
Grover underneath the produce.

Experts argue that the automation of industries will just result in new and improved jobs for humans. After all, someone needs to oversee automated procedures.

But will there be enough jobs to tackle all the positions lost to automation? No matter how worrisome that idea is, we cannot stop growth and automation is clearly here to stay, especially since it provides a more sustainable way of doing things.

Perhaps our best then is training new people to find jobs that exist within these new automated systems.

Time will tell how automation will pan out but hopefully we will adapt and learn to thrive with it.

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