A Longhorn farm aims to reinvent farming - with robots

Brandon Alexander had been trying to make burritos fly—and he was getting tired. The year was 2015, and the 30-year-old roboticist was embedded with a drone team at Google that was pioneering the future of autonomous flight. 

“I started with the question of, where can I have the most positive impact? When you frame it that way, it really puts a lot of things into perspective,” Alexander says. “I evaluated many industries, and the reality is that few industries can even come close to food production in terms of impact. It’s just so fundamental.” So, in 2015, Alexander left his job at Google and set out on a 1,500-mile cross-country road trip that would change the course of his life—and potentially the entire agricultural industry. 

During that fateful road trip, Alexander met with dozens of farmers and got a firsthand look at the state of modern industrial agriculture—from the way the land was plowed and seeded to the types of fertilizers used to the way the crops were harvested. When he returned home from his journey, his path forward was clear—and ambitious: He set out to tackle several of the industry’s biggest challenges at once by building an indoor farm where robot stewards diligently attended to crops around the clock. They would plant the seeds, water the plants, and harvest the produce, all with minimal human intervention. The robots would cultivate their crops to maximize yield and flavor while minimizing waste, eliminating pesticides, and diminishing farming’s carbon footprint. It sounds way too good to be true, but Alexander’s vision has come to life five years later. It’s called Iron Ox. 

“Every issue we found was systemic, from the way the land is plowed to how it’s seeded, fertilized, and harvested,” Alexander says. He noted that most American produce comes from drought-stricken California, meaning that the produce in a grocery store has traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to get there. The entire process is unsustainable and will only become more so as farmers contend with the fallout from climate change and a rapidly growing global population. “If you’re going after a problem where every step of the way has an issue, then you need to tackle it systematically and rethink the whole process from seed to the consumer’s plate,” he says. “Our goal is simple: We want all food to have a positive impact, which means more or less undoing everything that industrial agriculture has done for the past 100 years.” 

Read the complete article at www.alcalde.texasexes.org.

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