The €2m ($2.26m) project is creating an unmanned ground vehicle, equipped with non-invasive sensing technologies. This means it will be able to monitor grape yield, vegetative growth, vineyard water levels, and grape composition.
Farmers can receive information about their vineyard via a mobile, tablet, or computer.
Traditions meet technology
The robot is involved in obtaining and collecting data about vineyards, rather than undertaking any production processes itself. Its advanced sensors mean it will not need to touch grapes in order to assess ripeness or quality.
In an industry that has used the human eye as the only ‘sensor’ since the ancient Romans, scientists say an accurate and objective estimation of grape yield has long been a goal for the winemaking industry.
But with farmers taking pride in the traditional methods of growing grapes and making wine, will they welcome the technology?
“This robot will not substitute the vine growers but will facilitate their work, so they can avoid the hardest part in field and take decisions about their production easily,” project member Esther Campos Gómez told BeverageDaily.com
“At the moment, farmers can measure some parameters by hand in vineyards, or take samples of grapes and leaves for analysis at a laboratory. The major advantage of this robot is the availability of a large quantity of automatically obtained data, which any user will be able to interpret easily, since it is represented on simple maps in smart phones or tablets.
“The robot will predict critical parameters such as grape composition and vegetative status, to improve the competitiveness of vineyards.”
The project is developing sensors that will allow the robot to obtain a better level of information than traditional methods, Gómez adds.
New robots and new blood for vineyards
The project says the high average age of farmers in the sector is a matter for concern, and hopes the robot will help change the way young people perceive the industry.
“This robot can be seen as an attractive tool to be used in precision agriculture, and young farmers are usually more open-minded to new technologies,” Gómez said. “Therefore, this project could help to motivate young people to work in agriculture instead of looking for other jobs.”
The project started in December 2013 and will finish at the end of 2016.
The first prototype includes a basic safety circuit, and a bumper that stops the robot at obstacles. So far, development has concentrated on improving the robot’s mobility in the field, working on the suspension and traction systems to help it cope with uneven terrain, and advancing the sensors it will use.
The challenges for the next year is to give the robot autonomy to safety drive between lines of vines using stereoscopic vision, and integrating a side camera to gather information about the plants.
“We have just finished the first year of the project and there is still so much work to do, so it is difficult to know now when it will be available for commercial vineyards,” said Gómez. “However, we plan to have the final prototype before the end of 2016, and start contacts with farmers as soon as possible.”
The project is run by eight partners from France, Germany, Italy and Spain. It funded by the ICT-robotics call of the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Union.