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Helping Cannabis LPs Reach New Heights Through AI And Terpene-Sensing Tech

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Plants speak and PaiGE listens. Terpene sensors and lasers produce real-time plant health data.

By: Jason Smith

  • Cannabis LPs are facing challenges with yield and consistency

  • Pond Technologies’ subsidiary is combining AI with precision agriculture to improve cannabis crop yields by focusing on plant health

  • The PaiGE system gathers plant-centric data from cultivators and consumers in real-time to optimize growth and user experience

Cannabis growers are scaling up their production by orders of magnitude, and as with any nascent industry, they’re experiencing growing pains.

Cannabis stores are stocked out and wait times for certain brands can be weeks or longer. Add in the fact that third-party labs may reject up to half of the LPs’ shipments for mold and diseases, and the industry is casting about for ways to ensure its product gets to market.

There are also the inevitable cost pressures – cannabis production is being commoditized in an increasingly global market. Growers know that cutting-edge technology and automation are needed to succeed as a producer in a high-cost labour market.

There are dozens of hardware and software vendors that promise improved yields through technology such as modern LED systems, sensory monitoring, air purification, or efficient HVAC systems. However, each aims to strengthen just a single aspect of cannabis cultivation. To date, there has been minimal meaningful integration of different methods.

“If a brand’s goal is to provide cannabis products of consistently high quality, and tell an authentic, transparent story, it will require data from every single plant, tracing it from the moment it sprouts to the moment it’s sold.” — Steven Martin, CEO, Pond Technologies Holdings Inc.

Using AI to monitor the plant together with the growth environment

Known for its innovative approach to growing algae biomass in controlled environments, Pond Technologies Holdings Inc. (TSX.V: POND) is working to apply its existing technology platform to the cannabis industry.

Pond, in cooperation with government and industry, has spent the last decade developing proprietary technologies to optimize growth conditions for microalgae – a sensitive organism that doubles in biomass several times a day, but when exposed to contamination, may go belly-up within minutes.

The Pond platform integrates different data streams into one system, then uses AI to process environmental data in real-time, and ultimately optimizes and fully automates the growth regimen. Could this system be employed to boost yields of terrestrial plants, like cannabis?

“Absolutely. Algae has forced us to use AI to identify growth patterns that elude the human mind, so we already had the technology backbone in place,” says Pond’s CEO and Chief Technology Officer, Steve Martin. The ask was to deliver a technology solution to the cannabis industry that could reduce the risk of molds and diseases, regulate inputs, and provide a more consistent growth environment for higher yields and consistent quality.

Pond saw the need to develop plant-centric sensors to improve growth at the greenhouse scale. “Existing sensors in cannabis greenhouses take point-source readings from specific locations, but fail to cover the greenhouse consistently,” says Martin. As a result, current systems are limited in their ability to map and account for microclimates within each greenhouse.

To optimize yield and consistency from each plant, cannabis LPs require consistent data from every single plant, from the moment they’re planted to the moment they’re shipped.

PaiGE system provides a holistic solution for cannabis LPs

Enter PaiGE (short for Plant Artificial Intelligence Growth Engine), a new company established by Pond Technologies to expand their technology platform to terrestrial plants and the cannabis sector.

The PaiGE system starts with Diagnostix – a phonebook-sized hardware device that measures the health of an individual plant throughout its lifecycle. Developed with and thus created for experienced cannabis growers, its proprietary sensors “listen” to the plant’s needs.

PaiGE uses AI to map microclimates in a greenhouse and to prevent mold and diseases and optimize yield from every single plant.

Diagnostix has a sensor-based “nose” to read the plant’s terpene profile. It also uses laser technology for fluorescence analysis and particulate sensors to detect pollen, fungus, and mold, in addition to more traditional readings like soil pH or ambient temperature. Diagnostix can be either handheld or mounted for autonomous operation and can read over 2,500 plants per day.

The next step is for Diagnostix to send the data package — ID’d by plant — to the AI brain: The PaiGE MasterGrower, which maps microclimates, optimizes growth and ensures a consistent yield and terpene profile. MasterGrower’s AI-based functionality also provides pathogen early warning, improves input efficiency and reduces costs.

Based on more than one terabyte of growing data that Pond has accumulated by cultivating algae, PaiGE’s MasterGrower system has an advantage over competitors in the form of enormous data sets. “Cannabis yields four or five crops per year, but algae grow four or five generations a day,” says Martin. “Extending the existing Pond platform to cannabis cultivation was simply a matter of adding cannabis-specific data streams into a well-established Machine Learning algorithm.”

Big market potential

With 10,000 crop generations of data and an established AI brain as the foundation, Pond incorporated PaiGE Growth Technologies as an AgTech spinout with initial focus on the cannabis space.

By helping cannabis growers optimize plant health, PaiGE supports faster growth, improves quality, and limits crop losses. Pond’s management team is confident that PaiGE can help growers reduce costs.

The company sees big markets to pursue, including a North American cannabis market estimated to hit $35 billion by 2023. PaiGE’s functionality can also help the indoor vegetable industry, a market with 50 billion square feet of growing capacity and an estimated market size approaching USD 340 billion; in Canada alone, the indoor growth technology market is set to exceed $50 billion by 2022, with AI in that market exceeding $3.5 billion by 2025.

Helping growers better brand their offerings

With plant-level tracking to harvest, PaiGE also gives brands and government distributors traceability and transparency.

“If a brand’s goal is to provide cannabis products of consistently high quality, and tell an authentic, transparent story, it will require data from every single plant, tracing it from the moment it sprouts to the moment it’s sold,” says Martin.

PaiGE’s solution IDs each plant or batch, so that each cannabis product can be traced back to a particular facility and harvest date. The company is also developing a consumer-version of Diagnostix called Talisman.

Management describes Talisman as a “Digital Sommelier for Cannabis.” The point-of-sale product will allow customers to scan the product in-store or at home and get a scent profile of the product in real-time. Talisman would then generate a “terpene wheel” that gives consumers a sense of what they would experience from that particular strain.

A strategic pivot

Making the jump from algae to cannabis is a big move for Pond Technologies, but management is confident that its extensive experience growing algae will give it a leg up on its competition under its new company, PaiGE.

Given the challenges and steep learning curves faced by cannabis growers in Canada and elsewhere, Pond’s PaiGE system appears poised to provide growers with a new way to optimize product yield, quality and consistency.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.