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High Gear: Test-driving Otto, the joint-rolling robot

Otto, the first product from Culver City-based Banana Bros., combines an automatic grinder with a cone-filler to simplify the mill-and-fill experience whether it's sage to purify the room or cannabis to lighten the mood. It officially launched June 2, 2018, and retails for $129.99.

An occasional look at the ever-growing collection of tools and accouterments catering to the cannabis consumer in Southern California.

Meet your newest party guest.

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Otto is a new gadget — and the first from Culver City-based Banana Bros. — that promises to make a perfectly rolled joint as easy as pressing a button. And, since it was introduced earlier this month, it’s proved popular at the Mid-City dispensary where it’s part of a summer-long pop-up shop focusing on gear for the discerning cannabis user.

“It’s selling better than we expected,” said Nick Danias, a managing partner at the Pottery dispensary. “You know those electric wine bottle openers? I think it’s resonating with customers exactly like that.”

Powered by an internal battery (which charges via an included mini-USB cable), Otto stands nine and a half inches tall fully assembled and resembles a futuristic pepper grinder. Although the words “cannabis” and “marijuana” are absent from the packaging, instructions and YouTube tutorials (it’s positioned — with a wink and a nod — as a way to make lavender sachets, potpourri and sage smudge sticks), it does a bang-up job of quickly turning loose cannabis flower (i.e. dried plant material as opposed to wax or oil concentrates) into a joint.

Pros: The grinder, which can be used with or without the cone-filling attachment, is the brains, heart and crown jewel of the Otto. The user manual describes it as using AI (artificial intelligence) to sense density and consistency and adjusts speed, pressure and direction accordingly. What this means for the end user is a uniform, fluffy grind every time. As an added bonus, the grinder works on a range of other materials as well. (At a dinner celebrating the launch, a chef used it to grind the flax seeds that topped the dessert.)

Cons: There are two small caveats. First, because of the design of the O tube attachment (the clear plastic part that magnetically attaches to the grinder), traditional rolling papers aren’t a viable option. Instead, Otto requires the use of pre-rolled, cone-shaped, 110-millimeter-long papers that are open on one end and taper to a cardboard tip on the other. (The Otto comes with 20 cones and the papers are widely available online and in bricks-and-mortar smoke shops).

Second, achieving a tightly packed cone of cannabis requires a little bit more than a press of the button. It also requires tapping the Otto somewhat forcefully on the table mid-grind, tamping down the material carefully after the first grind cycle is finished, possibly running a second grind cycle followed by more tamping and then finishing it off by giving the filled cone a vigorous shake.

These steps won’t necessarily come as a surprise to anyone who has read the directions (which instruct users to “shake [the filled cone] like a sugar packet”), and Otto’s accessories include a tamping tool, but they do make the process slightly more time-consuming than the video tutorials make it seem.

Learning Curve: Slight — if you’ve done the proper pre-flight preparations and read the directions first. (It helps that they’re illustrated like the emergency instructions you’d pluck out of a airline seat-back pocket.) Even so, we ended up churning through four anemic-looking joints before ending up with the kind of professional-looking, tightly packed cone that passed muster with our testers.

Helpful Hint: Although Otto’s assorted implements include a measuring cup to help you judge how much material to put in the grinder, the best way to ensure that you end up with a joint that’s packed as full as a pre-roll you’d buy at a dispensary is to use a small food scale. Our tests found that starting with 1.5 grams milled in two passes — with tamping in between — resulted in a 1.2-gram joint (with the rest of the material left behind in the grinder).

Toke-away: While seasoned stoners won’t need any help twisting up a perfectly serviceable joint, less-dexterous flower aficionados will find Otto the joint-rolling robot immensely helpful — not to mention a highly entertaining addition to your next potluck dinner party.

Otto, $139.99, available online at bananabros.com and locally at the Higher Standards X the Pottery pop-up, 5042 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles.

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