What Does Mars Have To Do With Marijuana?

By DYLAN WILKS

When designing our portable LightLab cannabis analyzer, we focused on two major design considerations: accuracy and dependability.  Since our device is typically used in cultivation sites, extraction labs, etc. we knew the LightLab would be handled less delicately than a typical laboratory instrument.  Further, the operators may not be trained chemists.  Cultivators and extractors, however, have the same requirement for accuracy that a testing lab does.  Not an easy task given the tough environment.  We decided to look to the stars to get inspiration.

This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Big Sky" site, where its drill collected the mission's fifth taste of Mount Sharp. Photo credit: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA19920

This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Big Sky" site, where its drill collected the mission's fifth taste of Mount Sharp. Photo credit: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA19920

The Mars Curiosity rover had a rough ride to Mars.  It had to survive the vibration and extreme heat of launch, the vacuum of space and a rough landing on its final destination planet.  Yet as of this writing the rover is still active with 1675 days in operation (that is 1632 Sols for any Mars geeks).  We didn’t just take inspiration from the rover’s robustness.  We actually used one of the detectors on Curiosity as the heart of LightLab.  Any detector that has operated for thousands of days on Mars will provide a robust lifetime in a cultivation site.    

Curiosity’s twin, the rover Spirit also provided some inspiration.  In 2006, Spirit lost its ability to turn one of its wheels, and had to drag its defunct wheel behind.  It’s no surprise that a moving part is the first to fail in a complex system like a Mars rover.  The same applies to an analytical device, so we reduced the number of moving parts inside the analyzer to just two: a motor and a valve.  That’s not to say the device is simple, in fact just the opposite is true.  Despite having just two moving parts, the LightLab is capable of accurately measuring cannabinoid content day after day.

The method behind our ability to achieve both accuracy and robustness is called Selective Separation Spectroscopy.  The system has three basic components.  First, we use chromatography, which is the same technique used by most cannabis testing labs for potency analysis.  Chromatography involves separating chemicals from each other over time.  Think of a mall that has lots of shoe stores.  It will take people who love shoes a long time to get through the mall, but those that don’t like shoes will take much less time.  Cannabinoids have differences in affinity to our chromatography column just like people do with shoes.

After the cannabinoids have been separated, they enter our Spectoscopy Engine, where they are quantified.  The Spectroscopy Engine, at the heart of the LightLab, contains both Mars technology mentioned earlier as well as cutting-edge solid state photonics to provide accurate and robust cannabinoid detection without resorting to moving parts. 

Finally, the collected data is run through a rather complicated calibration algorithm.  I’ll spare the details since math doesn’t excite most people, but the algorithm uses a unique linear regression algorithm that returns precise results even with variations due to the environment, sample matrix and product type. 

The final result is an accurate, robust and portable cannabinoid analyzer that is surprisingly easy to use. Just like the Mars rover, a LightLab is capable of providing essential data for years to come, and will give an edge to any producer by ensuring their product is of high quality and consistency.