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Iron Ox opens its first fully autonomous farm

For the last two and a half years, Iron Ox has been working on perfecting its agricultural robots to tend its indoor farms. After first testing its systems on a small scale, the company is opening its first fully autonomous production farm, with plans to start selling its produce soon. The farm is currently growing a number of leafy greens, including romaine, butterhead and kale, in addition to basil, cilantro and chives. The robots tending these plants are Angus, a 1,000-pound machine that can lift and move the large hydroponic boxes in which the produce is growing, and Iron Ox’s robotic arm for harvesting the produce. As Iron Ox co-founder and CEO Brandon Alexander told me, the current setup can produce about 26,000 plants per year and is equivalent to a one-acre outdoor farm — though this one is obviously indoors and far more densely packed. Alexander noted that he and his co-founder Jon Binney decided to get into indoor farming after working at a number of other robotics companies — for Alexander, that includes a stint at Google X — where the focus was often more on building cool technologies and not on how those robots could be used. “We’d seen lots of novelty robotics stuff and wanted to avoid that,” he told me. And while the founding team considered getting into warehouse logistics or drones, they eventually settled on farming because, as Alexander tells it, they didn’t just want to build a good business but also one that would create social good. Today, the majority of leafy greens (the kind of produce that Iron Ox focuses on) in the U.S. are grown in California and Arizona — especially during the winter months when it’s colder in the rest of the country. That means a romaine lettuce that’s sold on the East Coast in January has often traveled more than 2,000 miles to get there. “That’s why we switched to indoors,” Alexander said. “We can decentralize the farm.” It also helps that an indoor hydroponic farm can achieve 30 times the yield of an outdoor farm over the course of a…

Uber fires up its own traffic estimates to fuel demand beyond cars

If the whole map is red and it’s a short ride, maybe you’d prefer taking an Uber JUMP Bike instead of an UberX. Or at least if you do end up stuck bumper-to-bumper, the warning could make you less likely to get mad mid-ride and take it out on the driver’s rating. This week TechCrunch spotted Uber overlaying blue, yellow, and red traffic condition bars on your route map before you hail. Responding to TechCrunch’s inquiry, Uber confirmed that traffic estimates have been quietly testing for riders on Android over the past few months and the pilot program recently expanded to a subset of iOS users. It’s already live for all drivers. The congestion indicators are based on Uber’s own traffic information pulled from its historic trip data about 10 billion rides plus real-time data from its drivers’ phones, rather than estimates from Google that already power Uber’s maps. If traffic estimates do roll out, they could make users more tolerant of longer ETAs and less likely to check a competing app since they’ll know their driver might take longer to pick them up because congestion is to blame rather than Uber’s algorithm. During the ride they might be more patient amidst the clogged streets. Uber’s research into traffic in India But most interestingly, seeing traffic conditions could help users choose when it’s time to take one of Uber’s non-car choices. They could sail past traffic in one of Uber’s new electric JUMP Bikes, or buy a public transportation ticket from inside Uber thanks to its new partnership with Masabi for access to New York’s MTA plus buses and trains in other cities. Cheaper and less labor intensive for Uber, these options make more sense to riders the more traffic there is. It’s to the company’s advantage to steer users towards the most satisfying mode of transportation, and traffic info could point them in the right direction. Through a program called Uber Movement, the company began sharing its traffic data with city governments early last year. The goal was to give urban planners the proof they need to make their streets more…

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