Jul 4, 2018 2:49 PM

Cannabis Tech article: Automation, Control, Consistency

Automation, Control, Consistency

While it’s no secret, consistency is key to producing a quality cannabis crop with the maximum yield possible, maintaining consistency can be challenging as the business grows. Last week, during the Seed to Sale show in Denver, urban-gro received the Excellence in Technology award for their high-density, sense and control technology called Soleil – a data collection marvel in the future agricultural technology which aims to eliminate human error and create unprecedented consistency in grow rooms regardless of size.

Before becoming a freelance cannabis writer, Kristina Etter, spent 20 years in corporate information technology with companies including Maytag Appliances, Wells Fargo Financial, and DuPont Pioneer. With a niche in mobile technology and…

“People make errors… leave doors open, prune the wrong plants, move the wrong clones,” Urban-Gro’s CFO, Bob Pullar, told CannabisTech, “We call this the human effect.” Also, the plants themselves complicate matters as each strain has its own recipe for ideal conditions, creating diverse growing environments for cultivators and staff to maintain. Meanwhile, stringent compliance laws which require detailed record-keeping in these facilities, add to the complexity as well.

Soleil® Sense – Wireless Sense and Control Technology. Image is courtesy of urban-gro.

The Soleil solution by urban-gro addresses all these concerns, simplifying and automating processes, as well as, providing a record of ledger regulators can trust from seed to harvest. In partnership with Edyza, experts in high-density, internet of things, urban-gro has harnessed a revolutionary technology which could forever change the way cannabis, and other crops are grown.

Imagine each plant in your facility had a voice and could tell you when something was wrong... This is Soleil.

The Internet Of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT), a technology which has been steadily growing over the last five to ten years, allows machines to communicate without human intervention. We typically think of IoT as physical devices embedded with data collection and connectivity hardware and software which enable the device to connect with other objects and exchange data. For instance, vending machines with IoT technology are able to manage inventory, alerting the service representative when it needs to be refilled; or even by running diagnostic scans and then scheduling its own repair.

However, IoT had two major drawbacks – efficiency and scalability. Edyza addressed these issues with their high-density internet of things (HD-IoT) wireless solution. Using a proprietary Time Synchronized Multiple Access (TSMA) channel method, their technology allows connectivity between thousands of things in close proximity with power efficiency unachievable by other methods such as BLE, Zigbee, UWB, or Wi-Fi.

What Kinds Of “Things”

Utilizing sensors in the soil, around the room, and even on the plants themselves, Soleil allows constant, real-time analysis of the environmental conditions in a cannabis grow operation. Even employees could carry a tag to monitor which rooms they access throughout their shift.

Heat map image is courtesy of urban-gro.

Soleil Solution – IoT Innovation

With Soleil Sense, these sensors give immediate insight into the grow room, so key employees can remotely monitor key metrics. These metrics include substrate moisture and electrical conductivity levels on a per plant basis, humidity, temperature, and vapor pressure deficit in the plant canopy and throughout the growing environment, as well as, analyze water flow and pressure at key points in the fertigation system. In other words, the sensors keep real-time data not only on the grow room itself but on each plant. Plus, it can analyze the data and act on specific triggers by notifying staff or adjusting integrated climate or lighting controls.

“Soleil provides Micro-climate control. Not only do we know what is happening... we can control all the environmental factors for each individual group of plants,” Bob Pullar, urban-gro CFO explained.

In fact, the sensors on the plants even contain accelerometers so you can monitor the movement of the plant itself. If the head grower creates a task to move plants from one room to another, and the staff relocates the wrong plants, the system will alert the supervisor. Or if there is movement on a plant when no task is scheduled, the system can send an alert, possibly preventing accidental topping of the wrong plants or even theft. Automation creates efficiency and eliminates the opportunity for human error and inconsistencies.

Coupled with Soleil Control, this system can be integrated to control various aspects of the climate within the grow operation. Programmed to control lighting, temperature, humidity and air quality, Soleil allows cultivators to define an ideal environment at every stage of growth. Indoor conditions can be created to more accurately reflect natural conditions, like programming lighting to come on gradually to mimic a sunrise and dim like a sunset.

Future: Meet Big Data

In addition to control and automation of the environment, the collection of data happens at every step of the process. The learning opportunities through the collection of this data may be the most valuable commodity created by Soleil and urban-gro. As more cannabis operations start to implement Soleil, the more data can be collected and used for creating a better understanding of the cannabis crop, as well as, advancing the industry in general.

As the cannabis industry expands, regulators will start to look to systems like Soleil as a technological standard for compliance and control. Automated systems, a ledger of record, and complete reporting capability put Soleil ahead of the curve in anticipation of strict federal regulation.

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