Oct. 26 - A French engineer has designed a robot that in the future will be able to prune and pick grapes, saving wine makers time and money. Hayley Platt reports.
Keeping a vineyard in top condition can be back breaking work. But it should become easier now thanks to a new invention called the Wall-Ye. The robot, measures 50 by 60 centimeters, is fitted with six cameras and a GPS system to help it stay on track. This one is just a prototype but the robot's French inventor Christophe Millot says when fully developed it will be able to prune up to 600 vines a day. (SOUNDBITE) (French) INVENTOR OF THE ROBOT CHRISTOPHE MILLOT SAYING: "A human being has to bend to prune the vines or sometimes move on a trolley, so I found it was useless to build something tall that would have had to be lowered, because it would use more energy." The Burgundy-based inventor spent three years perfecting his design. It includes enough computer memory to help Wall-Ye recognise different plants and remember which vines it's already pruned. Millot hopes his invention will help vineyard owners solve the problems of staff shortages, faced by many. (SOUNDBITE) (French) INVENTOR OF THE ROBOT CHRISTOPHE MILLOT SAYING: "Once the robot has been trained, the following year it will be able to prune again, and again. So at least this will be one permanent worker". Winemaker Claire Gazeau-Montrasi agrees. She says novice pruners have to be trained each year. But it's 25,000 euro price tag would be a serious consideration. (SOUNDBITE) (French) WINEMAKER AND OWNER OF THE DOMAIN OF CHATEAU DES RONTETS CLAIRE GAZEAU-MONTRASI SAYING: "A vineyard like ours could not afford a device like this but maybe we could if we clubbed together with others." So far 10 orders have been placed and similar robots by other inventors are being developed in the US and New Zealand. The job of producing the finest vintages of tomorrow is taking a decidedly futuristic turn.