Do you know how healthy your cannabis plants are during the night? Do they have enough humidity? is the temperature perfect? GrowRemote.com is brining sensors and automation to the grow environment that will solve these problems.
Learn More at: http://growremote.com/
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[1:45] – What is Grow Remote
[2:09] – Greg’s background
[2:51] – Greg talks about the move to the cannabis space
[4:21] – What to automate first in your cultivation room
[8:28] – Greg talks about immediate results
[9:05] – How is the watering measured
[12:05] – Greg talks about how to make CO2 reach all plants equally
[12:49] – What are the results cultivators are seeing over a period of time
[13:43] – Greg discusses lighting
[15:07] – Greg talks about total dissolved solids
[16:37] – Does the temperature of the water affect plants
[17:45] – Ho Grow Remote data can help you make better decisions
[21:08] – Best practices for controls and automation in cannabis
[27:28] – Cost of retrofitting a floor to grow cannabis
[28:28] – Greg talks about pricing of the Grow Remote system
[29:54] – Contact details for Grow Remote
Matthew: Hi I’m Matthew Kind. Every Monday look for a fresh new episode where I will take you behind the scenes and interview the insiders that are shaping the rapidly evolving cannabis industry. Learn more at www.cannainsider.com. That’s www.cannainsider.com. Are you an accredited investor looking to get access to the best cannabis investing opportunities? Join me at the next ArcView Group event. The ArcView Group is the premier angel investor network focused exclusively on the cannabis industry. There is simply no other place where you can find this quality and diversity of cannabis industry investment opportunities months or even years before the general public. If that’s not enough, you will also be networking with the top investors, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the cannabis space. I have personally made many of my best connections and lifelong friendships at ArcView events. If you are an accredited investor and would like to join me as an ArcView member, please email me at feedback at cannainsider.com to get started. Now here’s your program.
If you have read the free report from CannaInsider, The Five Trends That Will Disrupt the Cannabis Industry, you will know that it’s a theme of this show that automation and robotics will begin to be a standard practice in cannabis cultivation facilities. Greg Eisenbeis, founder of Grow Remote, is our guest today. Greg is going to tell us how automation and controls can help ensure healthy plants and a consistent healthy harvest. Welcome to CannaInsider Greg.
Greg: Hey thanks Matt.
Matthew: To give us a sense of geography can you tell us where you’re located?
Greg: We’re right, I don’t know if you call it the heart of Denver, Cherry Creek in Denver, Colorado.
Matthew: Oh sure, great area. What is Grow Remote?
Greg: Grow Remote is a company that really focuses on data collection and control systems. We market battery powered wireless sensors that are meant to collect timely data on a regular basis of anything in the environment really.
Matthew: Okay. And what’s your background? How did you get started in this field?
Greg: Well my background is controls and automation engineering. I’ve been doing that I guess over 15 years now. I started a company in that field when I was 26 and have been doing it for a long time now. Just building automated processes for companies that build, test or assemble whatever they manufacture. So I guess a good way to frame it is that TV show How’s That Made. We build those machines, like those kind of machines.
Matthew: Okay. And why pivot towards cannabis cultivation? What’s the interest there? What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?
Greg: Well initially I was not interested I guess because of ethics or whatever, but after viewing or talking to some other people that has changed. And it’s actually the most exciting industry I’ve been in ever. It’s just like, it’s like a Petri. At least in Denver it’s like a Petri dish. We’re in this amazing, exciting industry that really in my opinion has not been catered to on the tech side very much. I’m guessing because it’s mostly been in a basement until, you know, the last six years.
Matthew: Great point. It does feel like a Petri dish, and the exciting part is that really every business in Denver in the cannabis industry and also elsewhere is a startup to some extent at least coming out of the shadows and being a startup. So you don’t have any huge established entities. Everything is small and nimble. You can reach out to other founders and entrepreneurs and really make a lot of friendships.
Greg: Absolutely. I mean just in… I work at a co-op workspace and just in this office building alone you know there’s three companies that cater to the industry. And just in those connections along you know we’re doing fantastic.
Matthew: Yeah great point. Now let’s say I’m a typical cultivator growing cannabis in the conventional way. What are the problems there? If you could swoop in with your cape on and change a few things right away, what would be the first things you would do?
Greg: I think the biggest thing is really look at the environment. When I walk into a grow I can immediately tell if they have problems. You can just tell just by the air that’s in there. The weird part of this industry is they grow inside. I guess that’s not weird, this is where it came from. Most commercial buildings are awful. They’re completely just gigantic energy wasters and that really shows up in trying to control the environment. I would probably approach that first, but really the lowest thing is get the compass, where are you at.
Matthew: Yeah. So you measure a lot of different things, and I imagine that cultivators and business owners think one thing and then you come in there and show them something entirely different. What is it that they’re… is there a light bulb moment for them in terms of temperature, humidity and the things you’re measuring?
Greg: Absolutely. I mean it doesn’t take a lot of time, and we’ve been putting in, I guess, you know giving people a free system initially just to get into some of these places just to test it out. But in the first week, I mean, this has happened multiple times, they install the system which is like a sticky on a wall, plug it in and it runs and starts collecting data. But in that week, I mean, this particular client solved three major issues within the first week. Like for instance they didn’t know that their grow’s temperature was dropping 30 degrees every night.
Matthew: Oh, yeah that’s a big one.
Greg: Had no idea. I mean it was getting down to like the 50s. I mean in Colorado it’s like a yo-yo in terms of climate. And then no clue, I mean they had those, the cheesy temperature monitors that are on the wall. You know they do track high and low, but from which day? When was it reset? I don’t know. They don’t know. So when you start showing them the graphs after a week of collecting data it’s like holy cow tons of light bulbs start going off. Like oh my gosh our AC system completely sucks or I don’t know. There’s a lot of cool insights that are kind of funny to look at and we’re like okay well now we have some direction. We can solve these problems.
Matthew: So just out of curiosity what’s the quickest duct tape solution then that they implemented to solve the temperature issue? Was it just a humidistat change or I mean a temperature change? How did they do that?
Greg: Yeah so there’s a couple of things. One is like in these buildings that have really bad insulation some decide to put in like a blow, blown in insulation on the top. The problem with that is it has a lot of fumes and it shuts down your grow for a while. A better alternative is use, what I like to use is radiant barrier, a special type of type of it. And it’s the super reflective material. It looks like aluminum foil kind of. And with that it keeps all the heat out of the building or cold or keeps all the heat or cold in and it’s buffers it. And it’s 95% resilient to any kind of temperature thermal transmission.
Matthew: Oh wow.
Greg: So just putting that on the ceiling alone will button up that thing tight enough to where you’re not blasting your AC unit just 100% all the time because you can’t keep up. I mean another great insight, this is hilarious, so we have an output control. So a humidity sensor reads a reading. Says hey the humidity is too high, turn on the humidity fan. So the humidity fan starts running. Well through the software and stuff that we have and once they start tracking all that, they notice their humidity fan doesn’t do a damn thing. It runs all the time. Like they want to get it down to like 30% humidity, unattainable. Completely impossible based on their current set up.
Matthew: So temperature, humidity would you say overall in most cases that’s the lowest hanging fruit where cultivators and business owners get the biggest bang for their buck immediately?
Greg: I think so. I think those are two of the ones that can cause the biggest amount of stress. Humidity is variable because different grows use that factor kind of different. I know some that go up to 70%. I know a lot of the ones in Colorado like to stay really low. But the temperature for sure is a huge factor in reducing disease, creating stability in the crop so that they’re yielding the same amounts. And I think really the watering aspect is really, really needs a lot of attention.
Matthew: Talk about that. How do you measure the watering? How does that work?
Greg: Well it really comes down to application. We measure watering because we have a control system that will measure precisely exactly how much is being fed to every plant. We don’t allow a human per se to hold a hose and water or add nutrients for that matter because they don’t know when they added them, how much exactly they added them. They don’t have a way of tracking exactly how much they put on the plant. So with our nutrient injection system that’s something we provide is that measurable repeatable process to do those two things very very repeatedly.
Matthew: Okay so you can monitor on a 24 hour basis or a week basis you could say okay I delivered this many liters of water to this plant or this table of plants. Is there any discoveries when that happens? Do you find people were overwatering or underwatering?
Greg: Absolutely. Yeah and you can add sensors in there to even pull that. Some people are very good. They just know their plants very well. They know, they need about this much water, but with our software you just say, you set up a scheduling piece and it just says I want to put you know five gallons a minute and I want to water for five minutes. And every time that will come out as if you put it in a cup it will come out exact same amount almost on every head coming out.
Matthew: So the way I’m thinking about this and I could be wrong, is first you want to eliminate the problems and then you want to optimize your… you want to get rid of the painful problems and then optimize your plants. So I’m hearing temperature, humidity, watering, you know you got to get those right. So that’s just basic.
Greg: Yeah I mean with the air system I mean that’s always saying like you have the air, like the cooling part that’s great, but there’s also convection. How are you moving the air through the whole thing. A lot of people use CO2 and I have yet to see up until recently a really great CO2 distribution system. Usually they use these tiny little hoses. They string them for 40 feet, a total of 80 feet of hose. Those don’t work at all. And so if you’re trying to up the CO2, you know, and it’s a really great idea indoors, the distribution of it is awful. I mean it’s just awful. And so those are the big problems that need to be handled. Usually it comes down to distribution of the air. How are you doing that? And then how well are you containing the environment. Like how well can you keep the energy that you’ve put into it.
Matthew: So you’re saying it’s somewhat, if you do this the wrong way, you’re creating a micro climate that hey you’re getting CO2 to the far corner of your grow over there, but it’s not touching all the leaves of all the plants uniformly. So how do we do that? How do we make that happen.
Greg: A great way to fix that is instead of using like a little tiny tube that has little tiny holes and hope that a heavy air can promulgate. I mean this is just air flow. You know get a gigantic like 8 to 10 inch tube or hose, string that down and blow it down that and then get it to distribute. I mean look at greenhouses. I mean a lot of this stuff has already been done. Go to a greenhouse. They have solved this problem a long time ago.
Matthew: Yeah. So what are some of the typical results you see come in and what’s the business owners and cultivators most impressed with or happy with after a certain period of time?
Greg: I think fundamentally it’s really the feedback. When you’re running a grow and you don’t have the feedback, it’s like going on a hike and you’re going off trail without a compass or a map. It’s really flying blind in my opinion and I have lots of examples of other industries where you know like say an extruding process which is highly sensitive to temperature. They don’t have any feedback to regulate that and as a result they have massive amounts of scrap produced in the industry, massive amounts. And the same thing with a grow. Like you’ll just have wonky really crappy yields. Your results are all over the place. And they show that. You cannot generate the same crop with the same yield. It’s just hard.
Matthew: We haven’t touched on light yet. How do you think about that?
Greg: I think light is really important. I think by going indoors you’re really having, you know, the sun is an amazing thing and it does so many things. And with indoor lighting, like we try to fake it and do that as best we can and yeah it works. There’s just I think other things to be done indoors to make lighting where it really needs to be. I think there’s a lot of propagation problems with light. Most grows are top down. I think there’s a lot of research and development that needs to go into lighting that hits it really from all sides. I think if they did that there would be a lot bigger yields than currently what they do.
Matthew: Right because the sun moves across the sky and it hits different parts of the plant at different times of day. You know, most indoor grows if they don’t have a reflective surfaces or maybe like LED bars or something like that, there’s nothing happening on the side or underneath.
Greg: Yeah you’re wasting a huge amount of a plant that could be produced because you’re just not getting coverage. You know and sure the plants can grow big and they have huge canopies and that’s great, but what about all the other stuff underneath. It’s just a huge opportunity just sitting there being wasted.
Matthew: Now what about total dissolved solids? Can you tell us what that means and how we should be thinking about it?
Greg: So total dissolved solids is something like what we use to measure like after the fact, after a nutrient injection. So water comes in the straight pipe, no tank. Some clients filter it, some don’t. We inject nutrients and at the end of that cycle, because we do it at sub-second. We’re in the milliseconds, like 50 milliseconds or 20 milliseconds per ejection. We read on the opposite side of the injection really what the concentration of those nutrients are. So it’s a way of getting feedback of how much nutrient you’re adding to make sure that you’re not making that mix too hot or you know kind of teetering to one side that really could harm the plant or plants or the whole crop if you don’t do it right. So it’s the amount of I guess dissolved material in the water. I guess there’s a Wikipedia version I could read. It’s the combined content of all inorganic and organic substances contained the liquid in molecular, ionized or micro granular suspended form. So it’s the dissolved portion. It’s what can conduct electricity, and as you add more of that the more conductive it becomes.
Matthew: We talked about watering in terms of the volume of water, but what about the temperature of water and how that affects plants. Do you measure that or monitor that?
Greg: I mean we do track it just as a data point. I think unless your water is getting really really cold to the point where that definitely probably could shock the plant, I think it does matter. I don’t know how much of that would really affect it. I think when you have a very dialed on process you would definitely see a difference in water temperature what that would make. But with everything kind of being sloppy and stuff I don’t know if you would really notice a huge difference. Like what’s the problem, you know, I don’t know how much of the problem that would cause versus just bad nutrient mixing or the temperature being completely out of whack.
Matthew: You mentioned once you get the system, Grow Remote system in place you start to get this feedback and you’re not flying blind anymore. How do you see business owners using that information to change the course of the business now that they’re not flying by. They’re getting this data. What are they doing with the data to help their business?
Greg: I think that shows up in multiple fronts. One, it really creates the experimentation platform for iterating. So as you continue to grow and you want bigger yields and just higher quality product, you got to have that feedback to create those kind of decision paths. Once you have those paths you essentially can create recipes. This is how I grow this particular strain. This is how I grow this particular strain in Colorado, in North Carolina, in Texas and wherever. By having that data you can now react. So it’s, over and above that I think the biggest thing on top of that is scale. So there’s a decent amount of master growers out there but they’re a limited resource. They can only be so many places at one time, and you have labor problems like how do you train people to scale. So when you get the feedback and you get control systems and processes in place you immediately create the ability to scale and cookie cut your process across any state, any building, turn it on. It will immediately start self-adjusting to get you to the recipe that you determine through experimentation and tracking the first time.
Matthew: We as a society tend to look at all technology is good but if it’s misapplied then we can have a negative outcome. Is there anything in the world of automation and controls that you see being applied incorrectly?
Greg: I think one thing that would be done incorrectly is either not having enough data. So you’re taking like one point and not really understanding what the full picture is. That would be probably one mistake. Another mistake is not standardizing processes. So they try to automate something but they don’t standardize like they don’t have enough feedback to control it. So like a lot of them will do, they have the AC units that run. They blast them at… because you’re not monitoring temperature in various parts of that room, you actually don’t really see that the opposite corner which is on the outside wall is getting very very cold. And that is not even getting it. So not enough of that is one issue. Allowing simple processes to be run by humans, believe it or not, they’re not as dependable as the machine that you just set up I think to go. But relying too many on that. I know there’s a lot of guys that say ah we’re very hands on, we baby our plants and all that. And I’m like that’s great and that’s true but still parts of those processes can be standardized and it would serve and that attention that they’re spending on that stuff that really you know could be cloud sourced, it opens them up to do other stuff like how do we make this better instead of wasting time just standing or holding the hose.
Matthew: With your background in the controls and automation industry, what are the best practices that you see needing to be translated over or that have successfully been completely translated over or are there some that don’t translate all to the cannabis industry?
Greg: I think a huge majority of the things that we do in the automation industry translate over. I mean these guys are commercial and/or I call industrial growers. They all need processes. They all need very systemized ways of doing things to scale. I think best practices really are getting in the stage of collection with a lot of our competitors. I mean it’s an obvious point. It’s a big market. It’s very obvious just given the amount of competitors that are coming online that this is something of high value to really go after. Energy efficiency is a huge one. The amount of power these guys are sucking up is incredible and I don’t really see that being sustainable. So really taking that usage that they currently have and creating smarter systems that just really harness every ounce of energy that’s going into that place and either repurposing it for something else like preheating water. Say you are in a colder environment and the water is really cold and that is an issue for you. Well your lights are generating a lot of heat so why not just pump that heat across a heat exchange or preheat the water and now you’re not wasting money on a boiler to heat water that could be done in a different way. It’s just becoming smarter of how you use energy I think is going to be, for indoor growers, it’s going to be a big thing because there are lots of people coming in to start growing and those margins are starting to get smaller and smaller and that electricity cost is not going down.
Matthew: Great points. Now this isn’t a practical question at all, but I think all research and development begins with kind of dream scenarios or ideal scenarios. So I’m going to throw kind of a fictional left field question at you to see your answer. If you could wave a magic wand and get unlimited budget to create an absolutely ideal 30,000 square foot grow with no limitations, anything goes including inventing technologies that don’t exist what would that look like?
Greg: That’s a fun question. Man it’s a big question. I mean first and foremost to me it’s like the set up of the building. Like how are you going to… okay so if you want to go to super top dream it would be a replicator. You would hit a button, grow me some plants. You hit a button and two seconds later it pops out a plant. That’s pretty far off. So a notch below that. A lot of my other clients in other industries are like data centered. So I see how they kind of heat and cool things. I really believe in an under floor system, and this is something we really try hard to push. And that’s creating a subfloor so you’re basically creating an 18 inch gap underneath and all your plants and everything sit on that. You can condition the air and insert CO2 and all sorts of fun stuff underneath and distribute it and it leaks up. It’s a very amazingly controlled environment doing it that way and it doesn’t require heating the entire building to do it. So I would start with that first is the environmental control and reducing the amount of energy needed for that.
And then I would get into… I think it would be badass to develop some technology to harness that sun in an indoor way somehow. Like it’s such a powerful thing. Even if you’re in a building to somehow collected or routed through, I don’t know, route it through mirrors or somehow get that, harness it and get it into the building without having to go to a greenhouse, that would be amazing. And the yields, because you’re not subject to weather at that point, but you at least still get to harness the sun which I think is probably the biggest most valuable thing out there when it comes to growing plants. If you could somehow harness that with some black box technology that would just grab and spit it back out in whatever form you want inside, that would be pretty amazing.
Matthew: It would. I’ve always been interested in, you know, the data centers they have a raised floor and you’re saying the reason is so they can control the air in a more complete way instead of just pushing it down from above.
Greg: Yeah absolutely I mean think about this. Your 30,000 square foot grow you just told me about it’s probably going to have like a what, a 20 foot ceiling, maybe higher. So typical systems will put all the (25.52 unclear) back on top and they’ll push the air down and yeah cold air will drop. Great. Hot air, if it’s in the winter or you’re on the East Coast good luck getting it pushed down because heat rises. So right there there’s already issues with that. So now instead of doing that, take a floor and raise it 18 inches, seal it, pressurize it with a slight pressure and now you just push in generic air. Say it’s 70 degrees which requires probably a quarter or even less of the amount of air handlers you need to condition it. It pushes it now through that and now you have automated vents that kind of open and close, that control the volume and it leaks up at the ideal temperature plus or minus like three degrees and then insert CO2 injection inside that. So you’re literally putting like the most conditioned air you can have right on the plant, 7 to 8 feet in that zone and then above it you don’t really care. And you can just pull that back in and recycle it. But that alone will drop your energy cost in cooling by like 30 percent.
Matthew: Now there is a lot of listeners that are just coming online in Nevada and Oregon and other places, and they’re retro fitting buildings and so forth and they might be saying that sounds great. The raised floor, but does that add a tremendous cost per square foot when you’re retrofitting a space to grow cannabis or is it a pretty mild cost?
Greg: I think for the result you get it’s a pretty mild cost. I think, I don’t know if this is a more recent number or not, but think of it more like a $2 or less of square foot to add in a floor like that. And to me that’s not unreasonable. So take that and then add radiant barrier on the top and you’re again probably hitting maybe a $1 or $1.25 a square foot for that, but the combination of those two your temperature in that grow will be so consistent, so even to me it will blow things away completely just having that setup alone.
Matthew: Now in terms of cost for the Grow Remote system, how can a grower or a business owner out there think about hey I’m interested in these sensors and what Grow Remote can do for me. How do you introduce the cost conversation?
Greg: Yeah so we try to be very ala carte with our pricing and how we set up the system. We don’t believe in… well we probably will in the future, but currently we don’t really bundle things together because we feel like you need ultimate flexibility in where and what you want to do. So a lot of competitors they take a bunch of sensors and output controls, so they throw it all into one box and you have to buy that thing for $900 or $1500 or whatever and that’s all you get. With ours it’s really tailored to as much as you want to as little as you want. So you can buy one temperature sensor and the gateway, what we call the gateway, which is what it transmits to, and you can take that and build it to hundreds of sensors, tens of thousands of sensors. You just have multiple gateways. So it’s kind of ala carte in that regard. So just as like a starter system temperature and humidity and a base station which can go up 100 sensors or outputs is $403. So pretty reasonable even for the home grower who wants to do this. This isn’t just for commercial. We do have more commercial oriented products like industrial control systems that use industrial type controllers and that. You know they’re not off the shelf. They’re really meant for high reliability and high scale.
Matthew: Greg in closing how can listeners learn more about Grow Remote?
Greg: I think the best way is go to our website www.growremote.com. So that’s www.growremote.com. And we recently just launched a new site. It should be either alive now or in the next few days anyway. And it has lots of information, data sheets and all that. Give us a call if you have a question. I mean we have a consulting arm as well and a lot of it is about educating the customer just on possibility more than anything. Like there are other things out there that do really great that gives you high high value.
Matthew: Greg thanks so much for being on CannaInsider today. We really appreciate it.
Greg: Awesome. Thank you Matt this was fun.
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