Robots for cannabis production? Why growth potential is high

21-01-2020    13:22   |    Robotic Business Review

Jason Rambo, Jodi Haines, and Cody Alter all have ownership in Alter Farms, a cannabis farm located in Grants Pass, Ore. Lugging blue totes filled with harvested cannabis crops against a blue Oregon sky, all-terrain vehicles buzz about carrying the fruits of their labor with an unspoken excitement – as if an agricultural revolution has hit an exciting new reset in the western U.S. Alter Farms’ prize-winning cannabis has won numerous awards for their products, and their farm has been featured in publications such as The Potlander, Dope magazine, and Celeb Stoner.

As more states legalize cannabis production and use, growers are chugging to keep up with demand, which may give way to investment in robotics and automation technologies to boost productivity and scale their operations.

Thus far, about 33 states along with the District of Columbia have some form of law that provides legalization of marijuana. The District of Columbia and some 11 other states have even deeper and more expansive laws for cannabis legalization. In California alone, there are about 2,600 licensed cannabis growers alone. As more states legalize cannabis, its demand will grow and so will its production.

Slow adoption

But the adoption of robotics may take some time to gain momentum. “The development of state specific cannabis regulations remains in flux,” Josh Kern, an analyst for autonomous systems with Lux Research in Boston. “While we expect states to slowly pass industry favorable legislation, it still remains a fragmented industry. The fragmented nature of the U.S. cannabis industry supports consolidation of cannabis production rather than innovations in technologies like robotics. There are a few robot companies developing solutions, but momentum remains slow.”

To boost productivity, cannabis growers are turning to solutions such as those from Bloom Automation. The company produces robots that are programmed with machine vision and path-planning algorithms. These robots have “learned” the cannabis crop from some 6,000 images to distinguish between the different parts of the plant and recognize and isolate the cluster of flowers needed for harvest. Thus far, such technology seems to be working. In Bloom’s case, they claim a 97% accuracy and a doubling of the efficiency capable of humans performing the same task.

There is an opportunity for equipment manufacturers and robotics to enter the cannabis industry from many directions,” said Andy Rodosevich, CEO and Co-Founder of Hemp Depot, one of the largest wholesale providers of the cannabis extract Cannabidiol (CBD) in the US.

Rodosevich said there is few, if any, commercially available automation equipment available for hemp agriculture. “John Deere doesn’t make a CBD harvester, for example,” he said. “We are having to create our own custom equipment suited for our needs. In our first year harvesting with modified equipment, we blew $10 million worth of CBD out the back of the machine before realizing it was not able to work for our plants. In the not too distant future, we expect to see manufacturers and robotics present at every stage of the cannabis product lifecycle.”


Alleviating manual labor, expediting growth

For the robotics sector, the cannabis market clearly offers new opportunities, as it has yet to be fully developed and matured. There are many areas within a cannabis operation where robots would be useful.

For example, they may be utilized for indoor or outdoor operations to not only harvest, but aid in the processing of the cannabis products to market. The many processes that benefit from robotics in industrial or other agricultural operations can be applied in the production of hemp, cannabis, or CBD. Robotic applications can be used to cultivate, harvest, or even in laboratory applications for refining operations.

Image: iUNU

Carl Silverberg is the senior Vice President for outreach and public affairs for the Seattle-based iUNU, an industrial computer vision company serving precision agriculture for indoor growing. Silverberg says there is a massive opportunity for robotics companies to capitalize on the inefficiencies of indoor and outdoor operations for high-value crops The solutions his firm offers use robots to collect and analyze data to allow their customers to make data-driven decisions.

“We work with some of the largest produce and cannabis growers in North America,” says Silverberg.  “The reason is that robots are infinitely more efficient, the data they collect is instantaneous, and it only takes them an hour to scan a football field-sized greenhouse. They see every plant in a greenhouse because they’re looking at it from above, whereas a human being has to try and see as much as they can from a ground-level view. And a robot always operates at peak efficiency, whether it’s the beginning of the day or the end of the day.”

Click here to read the complete article.
Photo courtesy of Robotic Business Review

Comments (0)

No comments found!

Write new comment

More news