December 9, 2021
Iron Ox has announced its second greenhouse robot, named Phil, which will assist the company and its goals of optimizing plant yield, expanding growth cycles and maximizing crop quality.
The robot’s sensor technology can identify trends in each module’s water and nutrient mix, measuring nutrient content and pH levels with speed and precision, Iron Ox said. The robot also has ultraviolet LEDs for quick and efficient sanitizing without producing waste. The company said this results in “delicious, nutritious, locally sourced fruits and vegetables with substantially lower environmental impacts.”
“The clever thing with Phil is that we can adjust each of the thousands of modules in our Texas greenhouse to grow the same and/or a variety of crops under different nutrient profiles, which in our controlled environment, rapidly accelerates our understanding of plant science,” said Brandon Alexander, CEO of Iron Ox. “This not only allows our grow team to optimize for the market demand, while giving each and every plant exactly what it needs – eliminating waste, but ultimately this knowledge can and will benefit the entire industry.”
The Phil robot is integrated into Iron Ox’s greenhouse system, with data collected going into the company’s agricultural dataset. The data informs the plant scientist’s optimization strategy. “For example, when Grover brings a module in for a checkup, the amount of water and nutrient content may vary based on different conditions, and the team may see a trend that provides valuable information on water or nutrient usage for each plant varietal,” the company said.
Grover, the company’s recently announced autonomous mobile robot, transports plant modules and docks with Phil, which hygienically fills it to the required volume and nutrient mix. Phil can fill each 6-by-6-foot plant module in under two minutes. Grover then retrieves the module and delivers it to the next destination. The company said the interaction between Grover and Phil is “akin to a Formula 1 pit stop,” a contactless procedure that eliminates the need to re-sanitize Phil after each module.
“The addition of Phil enables fast throughput of plant modules in an efficient and food-safe process,” said Sarah Osentoski, senior vice president of engineering at Iron Ox. “Phil’s advanced sensors give the teams of plant and data scientists valuable information to optimize the entire closed-loop system of Iron Ox’s greenhouses.”
The system can also be used for checkups throughout each plant module’s growth cycle. Phil can take a small sample of the nutrient mix, which goes into a reservoir equipped with sensors to measure the nutrient content and pH of the module. The plant science team at Iron Ox then uses this data to understand how plants are consuming water and nutrients, and at what rate. Phil then senses the water level and adjusts it to match the target settings. Another sample is taken for validation, at which point Grover then takes the plant module back to its respective place in the greenhouse.
Iron Ox is currently producing several crops, including herbs and lettuces, while using a fraction of the land, water and energy compared to conventional farms. It operates farms in Northern California, and earlier this year broke ground on a 535,000 square-foot indoor farm in Lockhart, Texas.
For more information on the new systems, visit the Iron Ox website here.