Former Google engineer uses robots to grow produce

Startup Iron Ox aims to use robots to cut farming costs so organic produce can be sold at the same price as ones grown in the field with pesticide.VIDEO: REUTERS

UNITED STATES (REUTERS) - Head of fresh organic lettuce - sold at the same price as one grown in the field with pesticide. That is the goal of the founders of Iron Ox - and it is one they think is possible thanks to its robots.

Iron Ox chief executive officer Brandon Alexander, gave up his job as a Google engineer - and is now getting into farming, just like his grandfather before him, and he is using his tech skills to boost production.

Says Mr Alexander:"Our mission statement isn't just build core robots or just to build great machine learning. It's to make high-quality fresh produce more accessible to everyone and we believe the way to do that is to leverage advanced robots, leverage things like AI but do it in such a way that we can actually supply better produce than they have access to today."

But unlike crops like wheat, corn and soy, that have been cultivated using GPS guided sprayers and automatic combine machines, fresh produce is much more challenging.

This machine by Agrobot can only pick berries grown in a structured way - although the next iteration promises to be one that can handle more chaos in the fields.

Abundant Robotics says its big challenge is to get the robot to pick the apples without bruising them and avoid damaging the trees. It is aiming to be ready for commercial use next year.

And Iron Ox chief technology officer Jon Binney believes - that where his robots will outfarm humans is not out in the fields - but at a greenhouse.

Iron Ox is looking to set up greenhouses across America -starting with the San Francisco Bay Area - and will focus on fast-growing crops like lettuce, basil and any other greens that can go from seed to the table in six weeks.