Iron Ox’s autonomous robotic farms for food security
As climate change means ‘freak’ weather events are becoming decidedly unfreaky, many of the world’s breadbaskets are threatened. Look no further than California, which at this very moment - with wildfires turning the sky an apocalyptic orange.
Food security is, therefore, becoming even more imperative. While farming technology has come on leaps and bounds, for instance leveraging drones and data analytics to , it is robotics and automation that promises entirely new ways of farming.
A number of agritech solutions have duly made it to the market, with applications ranging from harvesting to weed control and mowing proving popular among farmers.
Along these lines, startup (coincidentally based in San Carlos, California), is developing robotic greenhouses that favour energy efficiency and flexible production. The company’s ‘autonomous farms’ use sunlight and hydroponics to enable 30 times more crops in the same amount of space as traditional farming, while using 90% less water. Meanwhile, robots autonomously plants.
The company a $20mn Series B round, following on from a $20.3mn this time last year. The round was led by Pathbreaker Ventures and a collection of family offices, alongside Crosslink Capital, Amplify Partners, ENIAC Ventures, R7 Partners, Tuesday Ventures, At One Ventures and Y Combinator.
In , Brandon Alexander, Iron Ox CEO and cofounder, said: “We have made it our mission to address food security by developing autonomous greenhouses that grow a variety of local and consistently delicious food for everyone. Today, we’re thrilled to announce the successful operation of our Gilroy farm as well as our consumer brand, and our plans to complete additional sunlight-enabled, out-of-state facilities in 2021. As our growing network expands, so too will our partnerships and distribution channels, which will enable us to delight even more customers.”
(Image: Iron Ox)
The Rise of the Intelligent Service Chain
In their recent book The Technology Fallacy, authors Gerald C Kane, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan R Copulsky and Garth R Andrus found a strong correlation between the way a company is organised and how well it responds to chronic digital disruption. The more digitally mature a company is, the more likely it is to be organised around cross-functional teams. Management processes are less likely to interfere with day-to-day work, especially digitally, and this also leads to greater autonomy and increased speed and agility.
This was a pre-Covid assessment of digital transformation and disruption and why organisations need to focus on people and processes and not necessarily on technology. As we now look ahead into the immediate future, to Dr Fauci’s ‘Pandemic Age’ of economic uncertainty, increased competition and shifting customer demands and expectations, this idea becomes incredibly strong, especially when applied to field service. To meet the challenges ahead, organisations do not need to keep throwing technology at problems, like sticking plaster over wounds. There needs to be a collective response across the value chain that focuses on people and their processes and procedures – then technology can be applied to make it all work better.
If we now accept that working from home or remote working is the de facto standard of working (at least for the foreseeable future), we have to start evolving this idea of creating an intelligent service chain. How can organisations help technicians and service teams do their job now that they have to work remotely? Is there any way in which processes and procedures can be improved? Despite the enforced changes, how can organisations increase value for customers while improving their own efficiencies?
The move to asset centricity
Maintaining and monitoring entire asset estates over the last few months has undoubtedly been a challenge in most industries, especially those at the centre of the pandemic in healthcare and manufacturing. However, in many cases, rapid adoption of digital tools has led to a fragmented approach to working processes, as if all of a sudden, engineers are constrained by the limits of the technology and have to gear their work based on what is technically possible. When everyone was up against it and urgency was needed just to keep the lights on, it didn’t matter as much - but now we have to look at whether what is in place is right for the job moving forward. This has led to even greater adoption of field service management platforms globally as organisations digitise their service functions.
There has certainly been a greater focus on asset centricity. And now organisations must think about how to evolve what has been a rapid change in their service practises. Intelligence and visibility are now required up and down the service chain, to align people, processes, technology and of course, outcomes for customers. Without this visibility, organisations will continue to build fragmented service operations based on piecemeal technologies.
Key to enabling accurate visibility is the use of AI/ML automation. To date, AI has mostly been around the scheduling process but by applying AI to assets, it is possible to make better decisions around the timing of maintenance work, as well as parts required, and which engineers are most suitable to carry out the work. It is possible to also factor in self-service capabilities and where the engineer can help remotely through augmented tools, for example, and where the engineer is needed on-site.
Understanding customers and more importantly, understanding their assets to a granular level, will go a long way to reducing downtime, increasing asset optimisation and product enhancements, as well as improving inventory and HR management organisation. By having a 360 view of assets in real-time, it will be possible to organise service models that not only improve processes and procedures for engineers but also offer exceptional results and value for customers. Even during a pandemic.
The role of AI/ML, IoT and 5G in the context of intelligent field service platforms making this possible should not be underestimated. These are leading-edge analytics and communications technologies but that alone is not enough. If organisations chase the technology and ignore the fundamentals of which processes can actually improve services, while at the same time reduce costs, they will come unstuck. This is not a time to be gung-ho, but rather a time to thrive if service teams are given the intelligence they need to do the job.