Yes, it’s legal in Massachusetts to grow cannabis at home for personal use, but is it practical, especially for those who’ve never tried?
According to Boundless Robotics, cultivating marijuana can be almost automatic. The Boston-based startup has developed Annaboto, an indoor cannabis growing system that uses artificial intelligence to manage the growing cycle.
“You add water, push a button, and that’s it,” said Carl Palme, chief executive and founder.
The $1,000 Annaboto system features a 3D-printed base and an overhead tripod with grow lights and a camera. It also connects to the owner’s WiFi service, so that the user can control it with a smartphone app. Anonymous data about each unit’s performance is shared with Boundless Robotics, which can use it to train the AI system and continually improve its performance.
Annaboto is a hydroponic system, meaning there’s no soil involved. A cannabis seed is placed in tap water that’s mixed with custom-blended fertilizer that’s automatically dispensed by the device. When the Annaboto user types in the location of the device, it uses local water quality data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency to deliver the correct blend of fertilizer.
In addition, the system’s built-in camera photographs the leaves of the cannabis plant once it starts growing. An AI program examines these images for signs that a plant might do better with a different blend of fertilizer.
There’s no simple recipe for growing cannabis, Palme said. There are thousands of seed varieties, and they perform differently depending on water quality, climate, and other factors. “We have to account for all those things,” said Palme, “and the only way to make it scalable is through artificial intelligence.”
That’s why Annaboto constantly monitors plants. Over time, as hundreds of cannabis growers log on, Boundless Robotics will develop an array of cannabis “recipes” so that growers can know in advance which seeds will produce the best results based on conditions in their part of the country.
Growing your own enables users to get the freshest possible product, said Palme. And the price isn’t bad, either. In Massachusetts, high-quality cannabis costs around $350 an ounce. Palme said that a single plant grown at home could produce two ounces of cannabis buds.
How long would two ounces last? “If we’re talking about Snoop Dogg, you’re looking at one to two weeks,” Palme said. But for an average user, it’s enough for about six months of smoking, he estimated. And an Annaboto system can produce four to six cannabis plants per year, for up to 12 ounces of buds.
A number of tech startups are developing large-scale indoor cannabis farming systems. Somerville-based Adaviv, a spinoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, uses robot-mounted digital cameras and AI software to monitor the health of plants. Chief executive Ian Seiferling said the system can work with all kinds of greenhouse crops, but the company decided to start with cannabis because of its high economic value.
Seiferling said that while large-scale cannabis growers will dominate, there’s still room in the market for a system to assist home growers. “There’s always going to be a part of the population that wants to spend the time to grow it at home,” he said, “just as there are people who make beer at home.”
Annaboto isn’t the only automated home growing system, either. A California company called Abby makes a $1,000 grow box that resembles a skinny refrigerator. Inside, a single plant gets artificial light and a steady supply of fertilized water.
The Abby system is designed to protect the grower’s privacy because, with the door closed, there’s no sign that there’s a cannabis plant inside. But Palme wants to normalize home cannabis growing. So the Annaboto features a sleek modernistic design, with the cannabis plant out in the open for any visitor to see.
Boundless Robotics has just three full-time employees. The company has raised $750,000 from friends and family, and from the venture firm Dux Capital. So far, about 25 Annaboto machines have been sold, but Palme said another 500 are on order. In addition, the company plans to attract more investment through an equity crowdfunding campaign, beginning this summer.
Cannabis may be just the beginning. Palme said it’s testing Annaboto as a way of cultivating the notoriously fiery ghost peppers. And he said that large-scale versions of the same technology could be used to produce all manner of crops. “I think a lot of the innovation in the agriculture industry will come from cannabis,” he said.