New data and robotics projects could bring much needed time, cost and labour savings to UK vineyard producers.
Precision agriculture specialists, Agri-EPI Centre, AI-driven autonomous robotics company Antobot and vineyard owner, Ian Beecher-Jones, have embarked on two projects at JoJo’s vineyard near Henley-on-Thames to create a vineyard digital map, and on-the-ground and aerial monitoring.
The shareable digital infrastructure project – funded by Innovate UK and Defra as part of their Farm Innovation Programme Research Starter Round 2- will create the digital infrastructure of the vineyard, including rows, posts and vines to an accuracy of two centimetres using real time kinetic (RTK) surveying tools. The shareable infrastructure model, based on the Australian Collabriculture project could save producers many hours of work and cost in setting their vineyards up ready to embrace viticultural technology.
On-the-ground and aerial monitoring will be gathered by robots and drones to add a layer of data to the digital map. The robots are being developed by agriculture robot technologists, Antobot, and drones are supplied by Agri-EPI Centre. This second strand is funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).
The resulting technology will be highly transferable to other row crop sectors, such as orchards and soft fruit.
Duncan Ross, business development manager crops, Agri-EPI Centre said:
“When wine growers want to survey a vineyard with a robot or drone they have to do a survey and plan beforehand, which can be highly time-consuming if they have to do it for each technology they want to use. Creating a shareable digital twin of the vineyard should cut down the amount of time that contractors spend out in the field, saving producers and technology companies time and money. If growers have their own shareable digital infrastructure built to a standardised format, it can be shared with any technology company the grower would like to work with, reducing duplication of unnecessary onboarding and set up time every time a new technology is to be tested and tried in the vineyard or orchard.
Marc Jones, Business Director, Antobot said:
“This project is a vital step in the adoption and acceleration of sustainable robotics in viticulture. The grower-owned digital infrastructure will significantly reduce the time required for ag-tech providers to begin operations at the vineyard resulting in lower costs for the customer and faster development and deployment of robotic applications.
“The digital-infrastructure map will provide a common understanding and ‘language’ for both growers and ag-tech providers ensuring that precision can be matched to reality and reducing the friction between the data outputs and user. Antobot will use their various robot applications during the project, such as logistics (Assist) and scouting (Insight), to ensure that the digital-infrastructure captures multiple use-case requirements and is robust in a variety of tasks and conditions.”
Ian Beecher-Jones of JoJo’s Vineyard said:
“I expect the viticulture sector to act favourably to these exciting and essential projects. We need technology to find a way to replace the labour shortages the industry is facing by allowing a more accessible way for vineyards to embrace robotics and AI technology. It will hopefully allow us to find a new way of marketing vineyards to our customers through a potentially new revenue stream with consumer facing technological products and innovations. We cannot lose traditional wine-making skills, but any vineyard that can blend traditional with modern ways of production will be at the forefront of the industry.
“From my own 20 years of working in agri-tech, I know that there are growing pains for agri-tech companies; by working together, JoJo’s and Agri-EPI Centre can give a platform to companies to test their technologies and roll them out not only to the wider viticulture sector, but potentially other food growers.
“It is the shareability of the digital infrastructure that is key to establishing a reliable and trustworthy data platform we can all work from. Once established we can share it with and partner alongside a range of ag-tech companies who see the benefits and opportunities of working with one of fastest growing crops sectors in the country.”