Will Robots Soon Be the Best Winemakers?

Automation can be both a blessing and a curse.

On the curse side, robotics claimed countless jobs in America’s automotive industry and caused as mass exodus from one of our largest cities.

On the blessing side, robotics has been introduced at a growing number of hospitals, enabling doctors to increase success rates in the most difficult operations.

The trend has not been lost on the wine world. According to the website Growing Produce, there’s now an automated robotic grapevine pruner under development. Researchers from Purdue University and Penn State are working on the project, in concert with Vision Robotics Corporation of San Diego, Calif.

There already are mechanical harvesters for grapes, but pruning is a bit more challenging. Early results are positive, however, as the first robotic pruner developed “does bilateral spur pruning for winegrapes and the settings can be customized based on the number of spurs a grower wishes to leave,” Growing Produce reports. “The pruner makes one cut every 2.5 seconds.”

Interest in the robotic pruner has increased this year, and not because growers and wineries are trying to save on labor costs. Rather, given the current policies on immigration, they’re concerned that the workforce may not be large enough come harvest time. Since wine quality is directly related to grape ripeness, every method of bringing the fruit in “on time” needs to be considered.

If the robotic pruner catches on, could a robotic winemaker be next? After all, a great deal of science and chemistry is involved in the winemaking process.

While that’s true, winemaking also remains a craft — one in which the vintner can allow his or her individual style preferences to influence or even define the finished product.

For now, at least, those very human qualities remain out of the realm of robotics.

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Posted in Wine Buzz
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