by Jessica McKeil
Cannabis cultivation is permeated with technological innovations for a future that is closer than people think
The future of agriculture isn’t as far off as some may imagine, robots in greenhouses are not just an idea pulled from science fiction novels. Robotic farmers and total greenhouse automation have already been working their way through the rows of crops across North America for some time now, and they are just about to break into the cannabis industry in a big way.
A robotic takeover of the marijuana industry shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the technological advances the industry has made in only a few short years. Many forget that only a decade ago, recreational cannabis was a taboo subject, with farmers focusing on secrecy instead of tech upgrades. Today, marijuana is a multi-billion dollar industry in North America alone. It’s already setting records as a cash crop, with profits helping to fund technological innovations which push boundaries of conventional cultivation.
Automation is Already Working its Way Into the Greenhouse
Automation in cannabis may come as less of a shock than full-on robotics. Many medium to large size commercial operations already rely on some level of automation to manage the logistics of growing. Companies like Priva are working with businesses to take manual management out of the cultivation process. Priva designs systems for greenhouses which eliminate the need for constant human monitoring for vital systems like irrigation, lighting, CO2, to temperature.
Most systems, such as Priva’s line of automation designs, give the grower real-time control over the crop. Routine climate adjustments are automatically managed through pre-determined algorithms and comprehensive sensory systems. Priva allows growers to take a step back from micromanaging a crop with zone-by-zone data collection, and analysis. Priva design systems where a farmer can “view, manipulate, modify and make decisions in real time on factors influencing their greenhouse climate, irrigation and heat management operations.”
Priva is by no means one of the only companies injecting automation into indoor cannabis operations. Braingrid, Urban Grow, and others are making names for themselves in automated greenhouse climate control and data-driven grows. These systems are paving the way for full-blown robotics entering into the field and into the grow room.
Introducing Robots into the Grow Room
Where do robots fit into the modern cannabis operation? If you envision an army of helpful robots weeding and hoeing as they move through the grow, you wouldn’t be that far off. Naio Technologies already has a team of four robots in their small army, working their way through the rows of crops, quickly weeding and turning soil so that employees can focus on more crucial and complicated tasks. They currently have four models (Oz, Bob, Ted, and Dino), two of which are specifically targeted to the wine industry. In one hour, a small machine like their Oz model can weed 1000 meters of a crop, perhaps more efficiently and proficiently than a workforce of unskilled labor.
It makes sense that companies like Niao, with robots already adapted to a vineyard, will eventually turn their attention to cannabis. Both indoor and outdoor cannabis operations could expect both financial and productivity gains from a team of robots taking over the many mundane, repetitive tasks in marijuana cultivation.
Even if robot weeders don’t fit into your vision for the future of cannabis farming, there are other systems focused on indoor grow room logistics which may seem more realistic today. Stackable, space-saving designs are increasingly used in the industry to maximize the productivity of the grow room, but what about if integrated robotics and automation made each plant accessible and more productive?
Hove has a long history designing custom solutions for the greenhouse industry, solutions which have naturally gravitated to the cannabis industry. They have developed a system of rolling cannabis trays, called the Cannabench System, which maximizes space, improves operational efficiencies, reduce labor costs, and raise profits.
Importantly, they have adapted to the systems already used in cannabis. Their specialty space saving rolling trays integrate seamlessly with ebb and flow trays, trellis systems, as well as with adjustable heights so that workers are always working at an optimal height.
With robots already making their way through the rows of other greenhouse crops, they will surely be moving into the cannabis industry soon. Automation will also likely take over commercial spaces, becoming the norm, rather than the exception. With the level of investment flooding the industry, and open access spreading globally, cannabis cultivation is filled with technological innovations straight out of the future.