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Full-stack tech solutions for CEA growers

"It's not as though the industry never had robots; it's just that we are now expecting more and more things to be done by robots in greenhouses and vertical farms," says Gilwoo Lee, Founder, and CEO at Zordi, an agtech company based in the northeastern US and specializing in autonomous growing.

Gilwoo graduated with a PhD in machine learning and robotics, which she wanted to use to address climate change. She found her passion in controlled environment agriculture, which can bring production much closer to markets and reduce the carbon footprint from transportation and food waste significantly while maximizing resource efficiency. She realized she could use her expertise to make CEA hyper-scalable by building a cost-efficient and highly automated solution. After gaining support from Khosla Ventures, Zordi was born in 2020.

Co-founders Casey Call and Gilwoo Lee

Vertically integrated technology stack for automated growing
Since its inception, Zordi has focused on building a cost-efficient solution. It's developing a vertically integrated greenhouse solution that marries low-cost greenhouses (e.g., high tunnels) with robotics and artificial intelligence. In Zordi's greenhouses, a large amount of data is collected via robots and converted into actionable insights for junior and senior growers alike, while harvesting robots and other autonomous systems minimize manual work.

"Our systems communicate with other sensors and climate computers, but that is only one part of the farm management. Our scouting robots monitor the plants every day and communicate data about fruit load, plant health, insect populations, etc.," says Gilwoo.

The proprietary robot

The data flows into Zordi's AI, which analyzes the data and recommends actionable items for growers. For example, the system could report higher aphid levels in one section of the greenhouse and recommend the release of more beneficial in that section. The system could highlight where to prune trusses or leaves, ensuring high-quality operation. Some of these recommended tasks are then picked up by Zordi's harvesting robots and other control systems.

"Our goal for this intelligent system is to empower junior growers and managers in their decision-making and supplement experienced growers in theirs," explains Gilwoo.

Strawberries picked and packed

Harvesting robots get 80-90% of the harvestable fruits
Zordi has developed a highly advanced harvesting robot that is currently proving itself to be quite competitive in strawberry harvesting and with promising early results in cherry tomatoes and cucumbers as well. As Gilwoo notes, Zordi's harvesting robots already demonstrate a cheaper cost of pick per fruit and a high accuracy for sorting and packing.

"Robots really need to get the whole job done if we want them to be implemented on a larger scale. If they can only harvest 30% of the crop, then the greenhouse still needs to send in workers for the remaining 70%. With our robots, we are harvesting 80-90% of the crop while workers go in for the last tough-to-harvest berries", says Gilwoo.

Zordi's harvesting robots can pick various sizes and stages of fruits. While occlusion within the canopy has previously made it difficult to target mature fruit clusters, Gilwoo explains that the technology has come a long way since, and they have found ways to navigate this.

"While some of the components may need to be adapted to make the system compatible with other crops, the principles and methods remain the same. Our most advanced version of our robot is for strawberries, but extension to other crops is not too far out," Gilwoo says.

The packed berries once harvested

Moving forward
Zordi's vision is to bring farms closer to markets and enable hyper-scalable, sustainable production. To this end, Zordi operates greenhouses in New York and New Jersey, selling premium strawberries in the market. Altogether, the technology development and fruit production aspects result in a healthy growth for the company.

"We have come from a very healthy three-year path where we now have three working greenhouses with our AI system, and you will see a lot of innovation being realized in the next five years. This is everything from new crops, new partnerships, and global expansion," says Gilwoo.

For more information:
GIlwoo Lee, Founder and CEO