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Automating viniculture: a robot roams the vineyards

29 January 2015

A new robot that will provide reliable, fast and objective information on the state of vineyards, is being developed by a consortium of European universities and companies.

Image courtesy of the Spanish research network, Asociación RUVID
Image courtesy of the Spanish research network, Asociación RUVID

A European research consortium comprising Spanish, French, Italian and German universities and companies is working on the development of an unmanned robot, equipped with non-invasive advanced sensors and artificial intelligence systems, which will help manage vineyards.

The robot is intended to provide reliable, fast and objective information on the state of the vineyards to grapegrowers, such as vegetative development, water status, production and grape composition.

The robot is part of the European project VineRobot, whose partners met recently at the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV). The project, in which the Agricultural Robotics Laboratory of the UPV is taking part, is led by the Universidad de La Rioja. Other members of the consortium are the Spanish company Avanzare, the French FORCE-A and Wall-YE, and the Italian Sivis, together with Les Vignerons de Buzet, a wine cellar cooperative near Bordeaux; and the Hochschule Geisenheim University (Germany).

The major advantage of this project is the availability of a large quantity of automatically obtained data, that any user will be able to interpret easily. Moreover, this data can be transmitted via a wireless link to the vineyard owner's premises.

Robotics and precision agriculture provide producers with powerful tools in order to improve the competitiveness of their farms, say the developers. Robots will not substitute the vine grower, but instead will facilitate their work, and avoid having to spend so much time in the field.

It has several advantages including the ability to predict grape production or its degree of ripeness in order to assess quality without the grower having to go out into the vineyard and inspect the crop.

The robot prototype includes a number of safety features including a device that will help it avoid obstacles. Current work is focused on improving the robot's mobility in the field, particularly the suspension and traction systems that will enable it to climb slopes and negotiate weed growth between the rows of vines. Additional work will centre on improving the many sensors used by the robot.

The developers are now working to give the robot more autonomy, enabling its safe progress between the rows of vines using stereoscopic vision systems and integrating laterally positioned cameras which will provide views of the crop condition, the presence of diseases, and so on.


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