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Revolution in the Vineyards: How VR Robotics is Transforming UK Winegrowing

The UK's viticulture industry is poised for a significant technological advancement with the introduction of a new virtual reality (VR) robotics project. Funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), this initiative aims to assist winegrowers by automating vineyard tasks such as pruning and harvesting.

Despite having just over 900 vineyards, covering around 10,000 acres, the UK's winegrowing sector is the fastest-growing agricultural sector in the country. This growth is partly attributed to changes in weather and seasonal temperatures, boosting production. By 2040, the sector's exports are expected to reach a value of £350 million.

The project is part of the Farming Innovation Programme, a collaboration between Defra and Innovate UK. It was one of 19 projects to receive grant funding under the Farming Futures Automation and Robotics competition, announced at the Worldwide Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in London.

The project, titled 'Integrated Human-Augmented Robotics and Intelligent Sensing Platform for Precision Viticulture', is a joint effort between Extend Robotics, Queen Mary University of London, and Saffron Grange, a prominent producer of Premium Sparkling Wine in East Anglia. Their goal is to develop AI-based solutions for robotic automation of vineyard tasks.

This innovation comes at a crucial time, as the horticulture sector, which includes viticulture, faces a well-documented shortage of seasonal workers. By reducing reliance on manual labour, the project aims to lower labour costs and decrease emissions and environmental impact.

Dr Chang Liu, Founder and CEO of Extend Robotics, highlights the historical adaptability of the UK's viticulture industry and its readiness to embrace new technologies. The project's technology will enable growers to remotely monitor crop health, identify issues early, and automate tasks, thereby improving efficiency, crop quality, and yields.

The advancement is set to transform the UK viticulture industry, enhancing its productivity, sustainability, and global competitiveness.


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