Growers See Robot Pruner in Action
'Intelligent' machine 'sees' vines in 3D, and makes cuts to order
Vision Robotics, (visionrobotics.com) founded in 1999, has developed proprietary vision-based mapping and navigation systems to create robotic devices and technologies for numerous of applications. In a presentation prior to the field demo, company CEO Derek Morikawa said, "We're experts at using stereoscopic vision, with two cameras that work like human eyes to see depth." Other current projects include military, health care and cleaning applications.
Industry investors in the vine pruning development project include Sutter Home/Trinchero Family Estates, Vino Farms of Lodi, Lange Twins Vineyard Management of Acampo, Sunview Vineyards, which grows table grapes in Delano. Ag Industrial Manufacturing (AIM) of Lodi is a design partner.
Morikawa said $1.1 million has been invested to date, with Vision Robotics contributing more than $400,000 of its own money. The company is seeking $2.5 million for Phase 2 development, likely to take two years, and is looking for as many as 20 industry investors to contribute $125,000 each, some of which will be tax deductible. Investors will gain rights to purchase all the available units for the first three years of production.
Morikawa listed the following features and goals for the robotic pruner:
- Precision cuts with the quality of hand pruning.
- Day and night operation.
- Options to be towed by a tractor, or be self-propelled.
- Two pruning heads per row, with an over-the-row design to prune two rows at once.
- Prune at speeds of 8 feet/minute.
- Prune 1 acre in 4.4 hours (depending on vine density).
- Save 40 to 50% over hand labor, with payback of 2.4 years.
- Cost $125/acre (17.3 cents/vine), compared with hand labor at $257/acre (35.3 cents/vine).
Key to the Intellgent Robotic Vineyard Pruner are stereoscopic scanning cameras that take 15 frames per second, scanning the entire vine and working a full vine length ahead of the pruning shears. As Morikawa explained, "This 'vision' is the key sense the machine needs; otherwise it can't understand the vine and prune intelligently." An onboard computer uses the multiple overlapping photos to build a three-dimensional model of the vine, then applies "pruning rules" that were programmed into the software. The pruning rules guide and tell robotic arms with hydraulic pruning shears which canes to cut and which to leave, and where to make the cuts for the desired lengths and desired density of buds/vine.
Phase 1 represents about one-third of the total project, and Morikawa believes it accomplished its objective to show that the concept will work from end to end. "We feel the toughest parts of the technology have been done in Phase 1, and Phase 2 will help refine things in the field to improve overall quality, field ruggedness, the ability to prune more types of vines, and make it more operator-friendly with maintenance and support features," Morikawa said.
The earliest a commercial robotic vine pruner could be put into the field would be 2011. Morikawa estimated a commercial unit will cost $150,000 and have at least a 10-year life cycle. The first machines will be designed for VSP and bilateral trellis and training systems, but later products could be modified for quadrilateral and other trellis systems. The machine is expected to be useable on sites with reasonable slopes, and in light rain, but not heavy rain conditions.
Lodi grapegrower Brad Lange, an investor who attended the demonstration, commented, "Mechanization is a way we can stay competitive. The cost of labor here is greater than in other parts of the world. The potential for technology like this is huge, and we look forward to using it in the future."