Someone famous is knocking on the doors of autonomous growing. Hybrid robotic greenhouse company Iron Ox has closed a $53 million funding round, led by Bill Gates' tech fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
Iron Ox, which launched its farming system in 2018, grows produce in proprietary greenhouses designed from the ground up. They use robotics and artificial intelligence to ensure each individual plant receives the optimal levels of sunshine, water, and nutrients.
The workhorse and backbone of their greenhouse automation system, robot Grover autonomously navigates through their California greenhouses to move the plant-growing modules to wherever they need to be, whether for new plants, sunlight, nutrition, water, or harvesting. "A data-driven approach backed by plant science, robotics and artificial intelligence to mitigate the environmental impacts of agriculture," is what they call it.
Reducing food waste
"Our approach lets us grow exactly what’s needed, greatly reducing systemic food waste," they say. The company operates farms in Northern California, and earlier this year, the startup broke ground on a new 535,000 sq. ft. indoor farm in Lockhart, Texas.
Products are sold throughout California at Whole Foods, and at other San Francisco Bay Area locations such as Bianchini's and Mollie Stone’s Markets. According to the team, sales outside of California are expected to begin later this year with the first harvest from the new Texas facility.
Iron Ox will use the newest round of investment to expand its research and development programs, accelerate its manufacturing scaleup and expand its operations across the United States. The company is recruiting plant scientists, engineers, greenhouse operators and roboticists.
“Our decision to invest in Iron Ox aligns with our aim to accelerate transitions that can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions,” said Carmichael Roberts, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “Iron Ox is uniquely positioned to accelerate the shift towards climate-friendly agriculture, while increasing the accessibility and quality of fresh produce. It’s the type of solution that’s designed to scale quickly and has the potential to get us one big step closer to net zero.”
Breakthrough Energy invests in companies that are working to mitigate the impacts of accelerating climate change. "We support companies that can significantly reduce emissions from agriculture, buildings, electricity, manufacturing, and transportation at a global scale," they say.
“World-class investors know that humanity’s most important pursuit is to reverse climate change. To get there, we can’t settle for incrementally more sustainable crops — and we can’t ask consumers to compromise on taste, convenience, or value,” said Iron Ox CEO and Co-Founder Brandon Alexander. “We are applying technology to minimize the amount of land, water and energy needed to nourish a growing population. The team at Iron Ox will not stop until we achieve our long-term mission of making the produce sector carbon negative.”