Babylon Micro-Farms has received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, with the potential for $750,000 more in follow-on funding. The grant money will go towards further development of BabylonIQ, the company’s platform that remotely manages its distributed network of farms.
This grant follows a 2019 Phase 1 grant of $225,000, also from the National Science Foundation, that enabled the company to start trials of its technology designed to capture growth and health metrics for plants.
Babylon Micro-Farms started in 2016, originally in Charlottesville as a project at the University of Virginia. Over the last five years, the farm itself has gone from a tabletop model to the 15-square-foot controlled-environment farming module that’s now in numerous hospitals, cafeterias, and senior living residences. The goal is to be able to remotely manage this distributed network of farms, collecting the kind of data that can inform better growing conditions for all Babylon farms.
BabylonIQ uses machine learning and computer vision components to capture data from the farms that can optimize both plants’ grow recipes (light levels, temperature, etc.) and best practices across the Babylon Micro-Farms network. The company says the platform will eventually be able to learn from itself and improve processes over time, which in turn would hopefully lead to better-tasting greens, higher yields, and a higher nutritional profile per plant.
The emphasis on improving the software that powers farms is in keeping with something Babylon Micro-Farms CEO, Alexander Olesen, told The Spoon in 2020: that the company isn’t “necessarily interested in the hardware aspect going forward.” One potential direction the company could pursue is that of focusing primarily on software and bringing that expertise to a partnership with a separate hardware company. Nothing more has been officially said about that, though today’s news seems to point along that path.
Meanwhile, a central “brain” for a network of smaller, module farms is still somewhat unique among controlled environment agriculture companies. Larger operations like Bowery or Plenty or even Square Roots have made much of their software systems that can remotely manage a network of farms. Babylon Micro-Farms is one of the first to do so for smaller-size farms found in cafeterias, hospitals, and other facilities that serve food. Farm.One is another such company.
Babylon Micro-Farms says this week’s Phase 2 grant also provides “financial resources to accelerate commercialization.”