Australian wine-making steps into the digital future

A network of drones and in-ground sensors are making Australian wine-makers more connected to the soil-plant-atmosphere status of their crops than ever before. This Digital Vineyard could be the future of precision agriculture.

Imagine a vineyard: its long green rows are heavy with small grapes, full of juice and glistening in the sun. The dark soil underfoot and, above in the blue sky, a set of drones fly overhead. It’s one in the afternoon and the drones have awoken at their scheduled time to fly out over preset points on their regular rounds of the vines. Below the ground a series of sensors take measurements of soil health and moisture levels.

As the drones come together from all directions of the vineyard, returning to their docks, the data from above and below collaborate. Now imagine the head of viticulture, relaxing at the cellar door, tasting the latest release of pinot gris. It’s crisp and sweet with a hint of mango, perfect for this sun-kissed day. He looks at his mobile phone, clicks on an app, and is greeted by the latest data from 70 hectares of crops that has visualised into a multi-spectral 3D image. He smiles. Completely connected to the health of his crops. This is the vineyard of the future.

It may read like a sci-fi novel but this style of technologically-advanced precision agriculture could soon be a reality for Australian wine makers. The Digital Vineyard is an interdisciplinary research project using both in-ground sensors and overhead drones to collect data from an agricultural area.

MNSI Digital Vineyard - image by Teagan Glenane

These sensors provide a wealth of data about the condition of soil such as soil temperature, soil moisture content, salinity, pH levels and more. Meanwhile, drones map valuable metrics for growth, early symptoms of undesirable plant health conditions, and indicators for fruit quality. The Digital Vineyard project takes a significant step in developing the algorithms and software to acquire, combine, analyse, visualise, and disseminate the data collected from this network of sensors and imagery.

What does this mean for farmers? It could mean the farmer of the future just logs on to a website or opens a mobile app to see clear visualisations of their crops overlaid with meaningful data. The network of sensors and drones used in the Digital Vineyard gathers data that can keep Australian wine growers more connected to the soil-plant-atmosphere status of their crops than ever before. It could mean a level of precision control that would be a game-changer for industries such as wine-making in Australia.

Our Digital Vineyard project is working to make the vineyard of the future a reality today. Working at various locations in South Australia and Victoria, with both wine grape and truffle crops; the project is developing the key elements of sensor network and camera calibration, techniques for combining the data from the different types of sensors, and developing data analysis methods that will provide actionable metrics for growers.

Researchers are focused primarily on grapes due to their varied nature. Grapes can vary greatly within one crop, even within one vine, unlike more uniform crops such as wheat. The wine industry is important to Australia: we are the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world with only 40% of our overall output being served up domestically. We love our wine and so does the world. To keep ahead of the game, our Australian farmers deserve the best technology can offer. At MNSI we are working to increase the connectivity between farmer and crops, between Australia and the world.

For more information about this and other research projects at the Melbourne Networked Society Institute take a look at our Projects page or contact us today.

Drone images courtesy of Teagan Glenane.

More Information

Kate Murray

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