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Project Hummingbird is a ROEB Digital Transformation initiative supported by Health Canada's Solutions Fund. The goal was to test the value of data acquired through satellites and drones to enhance inspections involving outdoor cannabis licence holders. The core technology tested as part of the experiment is called “remote sensing,” but the goal of the experiment was to understand, test, and showcase opportunities that went beyond the science or the technology. The experiment included components of infrastructure, legal frameworks, ethics, operationalization, cost and other considerations. The experiment began in 2019 through a Solutions Fund Stream I. The Stream II portion of the experiment came to a conclusion in June 2021, but the project was approved for continuation within the ROEB Cannabis Directorate.

The journey has taken us to so many places through pivots and working through challenges. The pandemic created even greater opportunities that allowed for accelerated learning, which was only possible due to the amazing people involved in the project. Without their openness, flexibility, agility and willingness to be vulnerable to unknown outputs, the project would not be a success.

Project Context

Conducting routine inspections of licence holders by Health Canada ensures their ongoing compliance with the Cannabis Act and its regulations. Compliance monitoring is crucial to ensure that a safe, qualified product is made available to Canadians. To confirm the design requirements of a potential operational solution and the value propositions of both technologies, the experiment aims to test the ability of satellite imagery and drones either in conjunction or separately, to support outdoor inspections. The experiment used image and video monitoring / capturing along with software that provided feedback useful to examine the Good Production Practices (GPP) compliance of the Licence Holder; and to provide advance security information to support the safety of our inspectors.  

The scope of the project is to use satellite imagery and data collected from drones to develop a perspective previously not available as part of the toolkit (proof of concept) for outdoor cannabis inspections. The experiment develops a set of protocols to field test as part of inspections. The proof of concept aims to test the following hypotheses that the technologies provide:

  • Asynchronous and synchronous aerial perspectives provides useful intelligence;
  • An effective way to assess the site prior to an onsite visit;
  • An efficient way to inspect crop inventory;
  • An effective way to inspect crop anomaly;
  • An efficient way to inspect perimeter requirements; and,
  • A support to inspector safety during onsite inspection visit.


The experiment to date has provided plenty of opportunities for learning how we can benefit from the science, technology, process, and the human-skills acquired as part of our journey. We saw many qualitative potential impacts from this project. For example, we discovered many benefits and impacts that can be associated with improved mental states. Having access to satellite information prior to going on-site to conduct an inspection or having a drone operator provide aerial coverage during an inspection can improve security and critical awareness that is invaluable to our workforce.  

Another example of value was the story-telling ability that arose from collecting asynchronous satellite images of a single site over an extended period of time. Inspectors could observe new buildings rise from breaking ground to completion, and they watched the grow areas go from bare ground to initial planting to a full canopy and then back to bare ground again after harvest. This also helps inspectors get a general sense of how the site has changed since the last onsite inspection.

The following is a highlight of some impact potentials the project collected as part of its results. For our complete results, please visit us here.

  • Provide oversight of changes to a site including health of plants without needing to visit the site, and oversight of adjacent areas;
  • Target onsite inspection activities based on data provided by the pre-inspection analysis package (detecting anomalies via images)​;
  • Quickly collect UAV data that can be used to inspect many points of interest across a large outdoor site​;  
  • Improve personal safety by allowing inspectors to access recent and defined (ie. date/time) site information before the inspection; and
  • Improve personal safety when arriving on site using UAV data to provide a preliminary environmental scan to detect any areas of concern
  • Create qualitative and quantitative storytelling abilities, a visual representation through the satellite data and report that show the evolution of the site over time, which highlights changes or areas of interest to the inspection team.  

Our Experience

Hummingbird became a nexus for innovation and experimentation within Cannabis Directorate and ROEB. The Transformation Office, Program Development, and the inspector subject matter experts were excited to test new technologies and processes. When the Cannabis Directorate needed to pivot to Virtual Inspections due to COVID, a lot of the necessary thinking had already been established by the project, and the same subject matter experts were able to quickly bring together a virtual inspection process. At the same time, this project had to pivot away from on-site UAV data to off-site satellite images, but this revealed the opportunity to connect with the Canada Food Inspection Agency, who had recently scaled back their testing of satellite imagery and scaled up their testing of drones; we agreed to share lessons learned.

The project team was able to share our excitement with the directorate and the branch. We wanted to experiment with how the project’s lessons learned could be most creatively communicated, so we hired a video production team to produce a short film. After a warm reception of the trailer by our DG, we were invited to screen the film at a Cannabis Directorate all staff and at the Branch Executive Committee.

As the COVID pandemic begin to plateau, the inspection programs began to pivot once again, allowing yet another opportunity for this project to explore new opportunities. Late in 2021, with the limited return to some high priority on site activities, Project Hummingbird teamed up with the Cannabis Directorate CMP team to perform a limited number of targeted one-day onsite visits supported by UAVs while concomitantly collecting satellite imagery for that same site over the entire growing season. This approach allowed us for the first time to directly compare the two technologies at the same sites using the same requirements. This direct comparison allowed the project team to gain meaningful data on which technology may be more suitable to support various compliance and enforcement activities undertaken by ROEB inspection programs.   

Let’s Learn Together!

The experimental phase of the project is moving towards conclusion. The results driven by the data and findings collected as part of the experiment has allowed us to propose a next phase of the project, which will be to operationalize a pilot within the 2022 cannabis growing season. The partnerships forged during the experiment with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Transport Canada, The Canada School of Public Service, Statistics Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, as part of the UAS Innovation Task Forc, will continue as many are critical to the advancement of the pilot to share and acquire data and remote sensing techniques. 


Click here to access the Hummingbird files.