Winemakers And Agricultural Industries Leverage Robots and Machine Vision To Tackle Inefficient Processes
| By: Sean Balogh
With discrete and batch process manufacturers already taking full advantage of advancements in robotics and machine vision technology to improve operations, winemakers and agricultural industries are increasingly leveraging robots and machine vision to improve processes in the vineyard. Coupled with modern ERP systems, these manufacturers are better equipped to weather disruption and establish their foothold in a competitive marketplace.
Manufacturing, packaging, and production are already quite familiar with automation, vision systems, and collaborative robotics. Now, the more traditionally manual and complex areas of agriculture are beginning to feel the influence of these powerful technologies.
Robots And Automation In Agriculture
For example, Researchers at the Agriculture and Biological Engineering Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are making big pushes for robotics and automation proliferation into agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. The group has outlined their vision for the influx of robots, machine vision and AI in three levels. Initially, robots will utilize machine vision technology to survey and collect data that provide insight into a variety of environmental factors. A follow-up with more specialized robots will prepare and maintain sites, performing field operations such as weeding, picking, and pruning. Once a suitable location has been established and the land prepared for operations, third-generation robots and autonomous systems will emerge to automate the complete process from seeding to packing. The vision may still be years from coming to fruition, but examples of second-generation robots are already in the works. Take the California wine industry for example, where robots and irrigation technology are working in tandem to make more efficient use of watering practices in the drought-stricken state.
A Robot Workforce Uprooting Global Wine Industries
The vineyard might be one of the last places people imagine the latest advancements in technology are being utilized. However, the applications of machine vision, AI, and robots are disrupting the winemaking industry to such an extent that the benefits of their incorporation are too great to ignore.
Take California’s wine country for example. In a state with one of the most sizable wine industries in the world, while at the same time plagued with drought, innovators have answered the call with Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery (RAPID). RAPID uses precision monitoring technology to deliver water through specialized emitters attached to irrigation lines laid throughout a vineyard.
This prototype robot is part of the RAPID system. It will adjust plastic water emitters that are being designed for existing drip irrigation lines in an effort to save water. Photo: Thomas Thayer
The project was funded with a $1 million grant from the Department of Agriculture and headed by UC Merced professor Stefano Carpin. The unmanned ground vehicle, equipped with GPS can map routes throughout vineyards. Relying on drone and satellite images, the vehicle will have a continuous view of weather conditions in real-time. Additionally, the robot will utilize a "grasping hand" to turn the water emitters in such a way that increases or decreases the flow of water. This system improves on current irrigation setup considerably, since the irrigation watering systems currently in use deliver a constant flow of water across the entire system. With the more efficient use of water in the drought-stricken region, RAPID can improve vineyard yield, reduce waste, and even customize the watering process dependent on a vineyard’s variety of grape. Carpin hopes to have a fully functional test system available by 2020.
Pruning With Precision Machine Vision Systems
Wall-Ye V.I.N is France’s answer to one of the most labor-intensive components of running a vineyard, vine maintenance. Pruning, de-suckering, and clipping fruitless shoots, to be more precise. Understanding which vines need to be pruned and to what extent is considered a sacred charge in many winemaking circles. Nevertheless, tremendous advancements are being made to automate these laborious and time-consuming tasks. The creation of Burgundy-based inventor Christophe Millot, Wall-Ye V.I.N. has even the most scrupulous winemakers nodding in approval as the economic value the robot presents is undeniable. Take for instance the human component of pruning. It takes somewhere near three years to fully train a pruner to man the vines, whereas Wall-Ye V.I.N. promises to be ready to prune in a fraction of the time. Still, the robot will not be capable of taking on all the associated tasks its human counterparts are responsible and instead take on a collaborative role within the industry.
Meanwhile, across the globe, California-based Vision Robotics is hard at work creating a system considerably larger than Wall-Ye V.I.N. to tackle pruning tasks. Canterbury University’s Australia campus is developing a similar pruning robot as well. All three projects have a common imaging system that feeds into an AI focused on 3D modeling to determine which vines make the cut.
Robotics Helping Harvest
Once the cluster-heavy vines are ready for harvest, machine vision and robotics come into play in a big way. Identifying which grapes are going to produce the best wine is an arduous task made easy with the incorporation of modern technology. Take for instance the robots in place at the Hall Vineyards in Napa Valley, California. Once grape clusters have been harvested, the robots on location are fed the clusters to identify which make the cut and which do not. Taking more than 10,000 photos a second, the robot is capable of conducting an analysis of each photograph virtually instantly.
The operator inputs what parameters the robot uses to identify what is acceptable and what is not. All acceptable specimens proceed to a "good fruit" bin at the end of a conveyor, while the rejected fruit is blasted off the line with a precision burst of air. This is just one way that robots improve the efficiency of vineyard operations and enable winemakers to create even more satisfying beverages.
Another example emerges in the EU project, VineRobot, that uses color cameras, Infrared thermography, and GPS techniques to obtain agronomical and physiological data from the vineyard in real-time. By combining all the necessary data to reach a conclusion, VineRobot is able to alert operators and other staff of nutrient deficiencies in plants and ready for harvest fruits based on pigmentation. Throughout the process, Vine Robot is actually creating a complete representation of the vineyard's crop-quality as a result of the data gleaned from its sophisticated vision sensors and systems.
- VineRobot uses color cameras, Infrared thermography, and GPS techniques to obtain agronomical and physiological data from the vineyard in real-time.
About Encompass Solutions
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