How drones are helping the wine industry

Unmanned aircraft, satellite mapping and ground sensors controlled by tablet computers – not 21st century espionage but 21st century wine making

In recent years producers of new world wines have been particularly enthusiastic about embracing what’s known as “precision viticulture” according to David Green, a geography professor at the University of Aberdeen who specialises in the subject.

Precision viticulture (PV) is the gathering of all sorts of data about a vineyard, from sunny spots to soil humidity, which is then mapped and analysed in order to grow the best grapes possible on the optimum parts of the site.

“Most precision viticulture originated in America and Australia,” said Prof Green.

“Commercial vineyards have a lot more money and the vineyards are that much bigger. In France the process is still very traditional. We have been a bit slower in the UK… the wine industry in Britain started out very much as a hobby-type approach.”

The first step is to get aerial images of the entire vineyard. When Prof Green began his work on PV in the 1980s, model aeroplanes were being fitted with a camera and flown overhead to gather the photography.

These days, the equipment is a little more sophisticated – Prof Green uses a Parrot AR Drone controlled by an iPad and captures both stills photographs and video on two cameras – one on the front and one facing downwards.

“Model aircraft are quite hard to fly,” he said.

“This took 10 minutes to get the flight perfected and it only cost £300. NASA have got drones working – a lot of the technology was very experimental early on.”

The aerial photography forms the basis of a vineyard map, against which other data such as soil sample results can be plotted and GPS coordinates for the optimum areas for grape growing can be identified.

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Source: BBC News – Technology

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