Innovation meets Cannabis with Nohtal Partansky

Welcome back Budz!  I am your host, Ry Russell and today I am excited to introduce you to the CEO of Sorting Robotics, Nohtal Partansky.  As an Aerospace Engineer, he shares his experience working at NASA and what led him and his business partners to venture out on their own to create their own robotics company and their journey into the Cannabis space. Their new technology helps create infused products with more efficacy and efficiency than ever before. Nohtal and his team are on a mission to reduce the repetitive tasks that are slowing down innovation within the cannabis industry. Tune in and join our conversation. 

Guest – Nohtal Partansky CEO, Sorting Robotics

Host: Ry Russell
WeedBudz RadioSupport the show


Hey, budz, it’s your best bud Ry here.

And I’m excited to talk to you all today because

as some of you may remember, back in the pandemic

when everything was a little chaotic, I started working on

a number of different podcast shows, and one of

those shows was called IOT Idols Innovators to Watch.

And I got to explore the world of

innovation through automation and kind of what these

different engineers and innovators were kind of bringing

to make life better and make life easier.

And that was extremely fascinating.

And as time goes on in the cannabis industry and

you see manufacturers coming online more and more

and more unique products, I started to kind of look and ask,

where is automation coming into the cannabis industry?

When is it coming?

And lo and behold, it is always easy to

find on LinkedIn and the little universe we’ve created

here because our good friend Mike Mejer from Green

Lane Communication introduced us to our next guest.

So I’m really excited to talk about this with

somebody that knows a thing or two about it.

So Nohtal

It’s so great for you to join us on WeedBudz Radio.

Thank you very much, Ry.

Yeah, I’m interested to be a part

of the series of innovators and automation.

Yeah, it’s so exciting.

And obviously two passions of mine are

cannabis and technology, and you are kind

of where cannabis and technology collide.

And so for those that don’t know, it’s fascinating to

think that your career has kind of been all over

the place and a very entrepreneurial journey, if you will,

but not necessarily a traditional entrepreneurs journey.

I was wondering if you don’t mind sharing

a little bit about your journey into kind

of what brought us here today. Yeah, sure. No worries.

I guess I don’t know what

a traditional entrepreneur’s journey might be.

I’ve talked to a few of them.

They’re kind of always all over the place, right?

But my background is in aerospace engineering, so

I have a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.

I worked at NASA JPL, the

NASA Research Center in Los Angeles.

And I actually worked on a project

that is currently on the surface of

Mars producing oxygen, and it’s called Moxie.

So I was the lead mechanical engineer

on the heart of that instrument.

And then also I did a lot of work

on the overall architecture, and that was awesome.

But as you might assume, NASA is kind of a

heavily bureaucratic sort of environment, and it moves very slow,

and it can be kind of frustrating sometimes.

And so me and my co founder that was also working

at NASA at the time, we wanted to kind of strike

it out on our own and then build this robotics company.

So we picked up our third co founder,

who was doing his PhD in computer vision,

and we said, all right, let’s build robots.

And the first robot we made was

actually a robot that sorted Magic the

Gathering cards or Pokemon cards, trading cards.

And that was pretty cool.

It was super valuable to the industry that it

was in that industry was just very small.

So it sorted the cards.

Yeah, actually you’d put in a thousand cards and

we started with Magic the Gathering and then

eventually went to Pokemon and Yugioh.

But you would put in a thousand cards.

There’d be a camera that went over the cards.

It would scan them, cross reference them to an

online database of over a hundred thousand unique cards,

accurately identify what it was, what set it was, what variable,

kind of promo, small detail card.

And then it would take those thousand cards and

it would do whatever type of sorting you wanted.

So did you want to get all

the expensive cards out of that pile? It could do that.

Did you want to sort them by alphabet? It could do that.

Did you want to sort it by edition, set, rarity?

It could do that.

And then after it sorted, it would upload

that database to the online store of these

sellers and basically eliminate 80% of the labor

that these people who sold online would do.

It was really cool.

It was like probably one

of our most sophisticated robots.

And yes, that was kind of

the first thing we started with.

So what did you do after that?

So after that we then got into

a startup accelerator called Y Combinator.

Kind of a fancy sort of venture arm

with a business development program behind it.

If you don’t mind, Nohtal

why is that specific program so valuable?

Because those that are listening might

not necessarily know kind of what’s

all entailed with something like that. Yeah.

So Y Combinator is commonly referred to as the

Harvard of Silicon Valley because it was the first

startup accelerator kind of like built that model.

And that model is basically they give you a

bunch of money to invest and then they kind

of help you develop your business model.

And a bunch of the biggest companies in the world

have gone through it like Airbnb, Dropbox, DoorDash, Instacart, kind

of these companies that are very common now.

They started with like three guys in

this business development program.

That’s amazing and it’s hard to get into.

So congratulations. Super hard.

Yeah, I think the acceptance rate is

less than 1% or something like that.

Yeah, so we got into that and we said, okay,

we want to use this network of all these founders

and these investors to find a bigger market.

And so after kind of scouring the different industries of

what’s a good place to put our efforts behind, we

found that cannabis just really didn’t have a lot of

automation and it was very manual and very labor intensive

and a lot of these big companies weren’t even looking

at it or even trying to service the industry because

of its federal status.

So living in the gray is where startups kind of thrive.

And we said, okay, cool, we have a positive

disposition towards the plant, and we like robots, so

this sounds like a good path forward.

And so then, boom, that’s what got us into cannabis.

And that was kind of the

small journey into the cannabis ecosystem.

And then we’ve been doing a

bunch of weird stuff since then.

So before we talk about the cannabis and the weird stuff,

can you tell me a little bit about what is it

like being cannabis positive in a very federal environment?

You mean like when I was working at NASA? Yeah.

I didn’t smoke any weed when I worked at NASA.

Yeah, I was pretty low key because they can do

drug testing and stuff like that, and you also don’t

want to be caught with your pants down.

So I would say me and my kind

of engineering friends while we’re there, kind of

took a sabbatical from cannabis during that time.

Sure. You clearly had experimented with it

prior to your experience with NASA.

So leaving, because I was kind of trying to

wrap my mind around how does a systems engineer

at NASA get in the cannabis space?

Yeah, I mean, it was like kind of those steps, right?

It was like moving from NASA to doing robots

for small industry and then small industry to big

industry in cannabis is a bunch of kind of

non sequiturs to get to where we are.

And you said as soon as we kicked off

that there’s not necessarily one true standard entrepreneurial journey,

if you will, because my background is very media

heavy and very marketing focused and consumer experience and

found my way into the cannabis industry, bringing all

of those skills together.

And again, those steps don’t necessarily make sense looking at

them individually one by one, but it’s really easy to

kind of see how we got here when you look

at it in the rear view mirror.

And so I’m fascinated, when you looked at the cannabis

space, did you have an idea of where you thought

we needed help in terms of automation, or was that

a journey in a process in and of itself?

Yeah, that was also a bit of a

journey because I didn’t actually know anything about

the cannabis industry when I first started.

I mean, I knew I liked weed.

That was kind of where it began, right.

And when we got into the industry, we

kind of had to experiment quite a bit

to understand really where the pain points were.

And a big part of that was helping set

up a co packing facility in Oakland and actually

running that and participating in that process of running

a plant touching facility that would co pack with

some bay area clients and also act as like

R and D for this highly controlled substance.

And that process is really what taught me

and our team exactly what’s needed in the

space because we started building for cannabis manufacturers,

and then we were kind of participating in

the knowledge gathering of this cannabis manufacturer.


And so we kind of became

the customer to know the customer.

And then that’s where all these

problems started becoming very apparent.

Like, when you’re actually in the operations and you’re in the

day to day, you’re like, oh, wow, this is crap.

Wow, that doesn’t make any sense.

Is there any solution for this? No. Okay.

Let me talk to my customers

or other people in the industry. Do they know? No. Okay.

Well, there’s like, no answers to this.

Very surprising, because this industry is huge, and it’s getting

bigger and bigger, but there’s like, these huge gaps, and

that really served as, like, a good launching point for

our current products that we launched now and the product

roadmap that we have moving forward.

That’s amazing because I think of the cultivator specifically

and the processors and manufacturers, there’s a lot of

opportunity for automation when you look at it on

the surface and having really kind of my origin

of my career being manufacturing, I’ve seen incredible equipment

automate some of the most mundane tasks.

And one of the things that I really love

the most doing research for this episode was on

your LinkedIn page, you wrote, I want a world

where all repetitive labor tasks are done autonomously.

Then people can find or can utilize their

efforts on helping others and being creative.

And I thought that was really powerful because there’s

an argument so often, well, if you just automate

all of this stuff, what about my labor?

What about my staff?

I don’t want them to go anywhere.

So I get what you’re saying, but what do

you say to the argument of, well, some of

this equipment could automate thirty, forty jobs?

That LinkedIn post is kind of like

an overarching ethos of mine, right.

But when it comes to practicality of the automation,

especially in the cannabis industry, and how it’s kind

of hyper fragmented in these different states, if you

talk actually with these manufacturers, they’re not firing their

people when they buy equipment.

They’re just actually using them

for higher value add tasks.

Because really the problem that these people are

having is not that they want to automate

jobs and then fire all their staff. No.

It’s that they can’t even find

enough people to do the jobs.

That’s the big problem.

It’s not having the workforce of the labor

because people don’t want to do these jobs.

Extremely hard to hire.

I mean, I even ran into that issue

myself with the co packing facility up north.

It was very hard to hire for some of these kind

of simple tasks because people don’t want to do it.


There’s a very few amount of people that

want to sit down and pack prerolls all

day or pack concentrate jars all day.

It’s extremely tedious.

It’s super boring.

And when you do find them.

You actually can’t have them do that all day.

You have to vary the tasks throughout the

day because otherwise they get super slow.

They get really grumpy because those jobs suck.

People will do them because they need to, but

it’s the responsibility of the employer to make it

not a nightmare for the employees to do it.

And as you know, the industry in the United

States is moving more towards a knowledge worker basis.

I think it makes a lot of sense to automate

those jobs that the manufacturers are having difficulty filling.

It’s not that they want to fire a bunch of people.

They can’t even hire the people they need.

So that’s kind of where that

comes from in a practical sense.

I appreciate that argument very much because the more and

more I talk to cultivators, you’re right, they need fifty

trimmers, but there’s only twenty five that are hireable, and their

capacity is now limited to man hours.

Where to your point, it’s, well, maybe those twenty five

trimmers that they do have could be out generating

revenue rather than sitting at a desk trimming weed.

I guess that when you put it that way.

That seems to make a lot of sense on paper.

Another point that you made

is just that repetitive task. Right?

The boredom sets in.

Agitation can kind of set in.

And when I first started my career, I worked at

a medical manufacturing facility for diagnostic kits and eight hours

putting pipettes into a kit or putting cotton swabs into

a kit or filling vials, and it’s just it was

the same thing all day, day in and day out.

And eventually there was a really big shift to kind

of cross train and get people, and it made the

nights go by so much faster when you’re learning something

new and you’re applying yourself in different ways.

So I like just that example there because even in the

retail side, you could be cutting flyers or labeling, and it

just becomes so tedious that you kind of have to shake

it up in order to get the maximum output because there’s

no point in labeling when you’re just doing one at a

time versus when you’re kind of going at it. Right.

And you’ve got a flow going.

So that makes a lot of sense, and the

more that I think are there’s so many applications.

So I know you have a machine right now

to help with infused blunts and prerolls, correct?

Yeah, that’s called our Jiko robot.

Okay, so tell me a little bit about that.

Yeah, so that’s an idea that we got

from participating in that co packing facility directly.

A customer came to us, said, hey, we want to

do some infused payrolls, kind of in the fuzzy style,

and this is back in 2020, and when infused prerolls

in California were kind of just becoming a little bit

trendy, they were still very small part of the market,

and they asked us to do this job.

They gave us all this kief.

They gave us all this distillate.

They gave us stuff to make the prerolls.

We made the prerolls. It’s easy.

Then when we did the infusion

part, we were painting them.

We followed these SOPs that they gave us

but it ended up being extremely messy, both

in interaction with the customer because we ended

up using too much kief and running out.

And then the distillate was super messy and

kind of literally all over the place and

it just wasn’t a good process.

And, I mean, we did try to do a very

good job of it, but the spillage rates and all

that kind of methodology just didn’t really make sense.

And so since that labor was so high and that

spillage was so high, I kind of went back on

the robotic side and said, let’s just make a method

of infusing that is not just kind of cosmetic.

It looks cool, but actually

is functionally a better product.

And in a manufacturing kind of

gross margin sense is less spillage.

So you save on your material input costs.

And in some of these markets, it’s extremely expensive

and less labor, which in every market is expensive.

And that’s another thing that people

just don’t want to do, right?

People don’t want to sit there and paint

prerolls with distillate and then roll them in

kief. Yeah, it’s not a great thing.

It’s not a great job.

And so that’s when we made the Jiko and

basically just injects prerolls and blunts with concentrate, making

a column of concentrate down the center and turns

it from just like a regular preroll and kind

of into like a little dirty dab rig where you

have this cherry on the end vaporizing all this

concentrate, kind of smooths out the smoke.

You get that full terpene profile when you do

things like live raws and injections, and then you

can start mixing and matching and making designer joints,

which is not something you can do these days.

Can you do more solid type concentrates as well

as the distillates and batters are going to be

a little bit more runny, whereas the sugars and

the rocks and sauce are going to have a

little bit more of those solid factors to them.

Does that machine allow for both or does it

have to be more kind of the liquid side?

So it has to be able to become a liquid.

What happens after it’s a liquid kind

of changes depending on what it is.

So if you’re using a distillate after you

inject it, it’s still going to be basically

a liquid, just like a hard liquid.

However, if you’re using a batter or maybe

like a non pen stable rosin, after you

inject it, it turns into like a crystal.

So you can do these injections and when it cools

down, it cools down into like a crystalline structure.

And that’s what is really bad.

If you put it in a vape

cart because then it can’t burn.

But if you put it inside of a joint, it’s perfect.


It’s kind of like you’re getting that little dab.

So, yeah, I mean, it has to melt down.

You can’t, like, put in just kief, right?

You can’t inject kief because that’s like

a solid granular type of thing.

But we’ve seen people do like, hash rosin where that

is kind of this oily, mushy sort of dough, and

then you melt it down so it becomes runny.

And then you can inject it

into the joints or the blunts.

And then when it cools down, it goes back into

that same form that kind of like gooey dough form.

Very cool.

And that will dose based off of weight, I assume.

So doses by viscosity and time.

So we’re basically doing like a time based

dosage because the range of materials is so

large, kind of this constant pressure pushing, it

decreases the chance for you to accidentally create

cavitation in the system by pulling a vacuum.

And if you pull a vacuum, sometimes your batters or

your shatters or your sugars that you’ve melted down.

So we do sugars and stuff. You just have to melt it down

so there’s no more crystals left.

But if you do that and then you pull a

vacuum on it, it can sometimes actually create bubbles.

It actually causes it to decarboxylate.

And so this way we actually just provide a

constant pressure and just push it through the system.

That’s very cool.

So when you are doing this and

you’re working in this facility and you’re

seeing the opportunities, was there any regulatory

issues that come up when you’re manufacturing

equipment to manufacture these schedule 1 drugs?

Well, I mean, we don’t have any of the

schedule 1 drugs in our robotics facility because we’re

not licensed and that’s I don’t really want to

get rated or something like that.

We just have hemp and like Delta-8,

which is legal, and hemp is super legal.

So we have that documentation on staff ready to go.

But on the plant touching side, we would

deploy our machines to that co packing facility

to really run a real life scenario.

Because infusing hemp with Delta-8 is

very different than infusing THC joints with

like a rosin or like, a batter

because that material consistency is different.

The way it affects and response

to heat is super different.

It’s just just like so different.

So when we were doing kind of the final phase of

testing that last six months, it was in the field.


So I know, like in Maine, for example, the regulators

cannot seem to figure out once you infuse a

preroll, do you measure it as a flower product?

Do you measure it as a concentrate product?

So I was curious how that is working

in some of the markets that you’ve seen,

because obviously it becomes a manufactured product.

But I’m just trying to forward think here because

Maine doesn’t have this yet because they don’t know

how to tax it or how to regulate it.

So have you heard about that in other markets

where you haven’t been able to infuse products?

And do you have an idea of kind of why?

There’s some places where the infusion

of products is highly regulated or

segmentated from different operators.

So I know in Oklahoma, like a farm can’t

infuse, you need specifically like a processing license.

And then when it comes to how you’re going

to quantify the joint in California and in Michigan,

they quantify all of them as infused, as joints.

They’re just joints with more THC

or whatever inside of them.

And I know that right now, on the possible ballot

or a ballot like decision tree on how to tax

things in New York, they’re actually trying to connect the

taxes to the THC percentage, which I think would be

insane and make no sense whatsoever in terms of regulations

of infused products and just things in general.

They’re kind of all over the place.

And it’s honestly extremely confusing where they

even get these ideas from.

I’m confused just thinking about that.

How do you tax on the percent?

Like, would alcohol be taxed on the percentage? Right.

No, because then effectively you

deincentivize a variability of products, right?


And it’d be very different because everyone in

every state is like chasing THC percentage.

Like, can we make a preroll that’s 50% THC?

It’s like, yeah, you could.

I’m not sure if it would be good, but you could, right?

And people are kind of buying off that

notion because everyone is still getting educated on

the market on what matters in a preroll

or what matters in a cannabis product.

And yes, if they did that, that

would kind of fuck it up.

I think it wouldn’t make any sense.

We have Budz Emporium our adult

use store here in Maine.

We have a kief infused preroll that is

37 and a half percent, and that’s the

highest product we have thus far anyway.

But again, looking at when these types of

products come to market, I think that they’re

just going to be a huge opportunity here.

Speaking of huge opportunity, one I would like

to ask is this machine and this equipment,

is this something that’s readily available for cultivators

and processors to buy right now, or is

this within your facility right now?

The Jiko unit?

Oh, no, it’s ready to buy all over the country.

So we’ve sold ones everywhere.

We sold a few in Canada.

We sold to Michigan,

Washington, Oregon, Oklahoma, Massachusetts.

Where else?



Now we’re basically focusing on a lot of

those emerging markets, like New York, Ohio, these

kind of places that are starting to come

online and getting their feet wet.

And they want to start with automated systems because

they kind of see what everyone else started with

when they had an army of people and they’re

like, yeah, I don’t really want to do that.

Let’s take some lessons, learn from the other states.

Yeah, like I said, I can’t wait until we have it here.

So we’ll have to get one of your

units to Maine at some point, I hope.

Yeah, definitely.

My last question for you.

You saw the opportunity in the

cannabis space for this unit.

I’m curious, would your peripheral kind

of seen some other areas?

Because I think of trimming

right? And just preroll packing.

There’s already equipment there, but there’s not,

at least to my knowledge, nothing like

true scale full automation yet.

But that’s just kind of what my

simple mind sees as low hanging fruit.

Do you have any kind of other thoughts of just

ways that this industry can automate and become more efficient?

Yeah, I mean, one thing that we built and just

launched recently is a kind of vape filling machine, which

isn’t special so much as there are other machines around.

What I think we have taken the approach as is

to kind of build a platform that was from the

ground up specifically made for cannabis and very different from

what other people are kind of doing where they find

something from another industry and they kind of jerry rigged it

to make it work with cannabis stuff.

And so when you start with the cannabis plan

in mind and that sort of material handling issue,

you then can very easily kind of mix and

match that design to do other things.

Like that vape cartridge filling machine will

also be able to do gummies.

And if it’s doing gummies, it will also

be able to do maybe drinkables as well.

And so we’re kind of going through this experimentation

process of where have the current technologies that have

been applied to the space fall short.

And that’s kind of where we see it

in like vape cartridge, gummies, edibles situation.

And I think that’s where we’re going to be

focusing a lot of our effort on next. It’s amazing.

I can’t wait to continue to follow your journey

and the products that you all have coming out.

So for those that are interested right now in getting in

touch with you or getting some of your equipment or following

you, what’s the best way to stay in touch?

I think the best way to stay in touch is

follow me on LinkedIn and you can hit me up

on LinkedIn or just, I guess send me a message.

nohtal@sorting roboticscom. That’s my email.

I check it every day.

So if you want to reach out, just drop me a line.


Well, thank you so much.

We’re so grateful that you made the time

to join us today on WeedBudz Radio.

Thank you for having me.

And of course, we’re so grateful to all of you

for joining us on today’s episode of WeedBudz Radio.

Be sure to head over to check out those show notes.

We’ll have links to all the

websites you can connect further.

And of course we are excited to

see you in the next episode. So stay tuned.