VineScout is a self-propelled, electrically powered vineyard monitoring robot under development by a four-nation pan-European consortium of which Symington Family Estates is one of the partners. The three-year project (2016 – 2019) is working to develop an autonomous vineyard robot that can help wine producers measure key vineyard parameters, including water availability, vine leaf/canopy temperature and variations in plant vigour.

We were invited to participate in this pioneering project at the ClimWine 2016 International Symposium held in Bordeaux, which addressed the topic of “Sustainable Grape and Wine Production in the Context of Climate Change”. A presentation by the Symington Viticulture R&D Manager caught the attention of attending representatives from one of the future consortium members and resulted in our invitation to become the end-user member of the VineScout project.

Current vineyard data gathering techniques are expensive and time-consuming, require trained personnel, and deliver an incomplete picture due to low sampling rates. This prevents the viticulturist and winemaker from having comprehensive and reliable information during the growing and ripening cycles, on a regular basis and in real time. Most producers do not have access to data that could help them optimise their vineyard management and ultimately influence the quality of their wines. It is this capability gap that VineScout will bridge by providing accurate, comprehensive and swift on-the-go data gathering.

VineScout operates using GPS guidance and fitted sensors which allow it to navigate between vines without a human operator. The data provides valuable real-time information for assessing the vineyard and making timely interventions. The robot is powered by electric batteries and fitted with solar panels which power the onboard sensors and software. 

Prototype 1 was field trialed at Quinta do Ataíde in 2017 and a streamlined second prototype was trialed in 2018. A final prototype is scheduled for field trials at Ataíde during 2019. This version will be very close to a full series-production version, which can hopefully be made available to wine producers in the medium-term future.