Friday, 18 February 2022 16:30

Cropsy: Bringing the power of AI to vineyard monitoring

Written by  Tony Skinner
The Cropsy crew, from left, Ali Alomari, Rory Buchanan, Leila Deljkovic, Woo Jin Kang and Winston Su. The Cropsy crew, from left, Ali Alomari, Rory Buchanan, Leila Deljkovic, Woo Jin Kang and Winston Su.

A Kiwi startup has developed an artificial intelligence-powered vision system that has the potential to drastically transform the way vineyards are managed.

Based on camera units and data processing computers that can be mounted on existing vineyard tractors or other vehicles, the system uses its sensors to capture every aspect of the plants as the vehicle passes through the vineyard.

Cropsy co-founder and Chief Executive Ali Alomari says the key discriminator is the system’s high-powered flash, which eliminates sunlight, shadows and reflections during image capture, resulting in consistent and accurate colours and textures. “The system effectively removes the sun from all our images, which allows us to maintain a low variability image throughout all times of the day – whether it’s raining, whether you are spraying or it’s cloudy, sunny – all the photos look the same,” Ali explains. “And that allows our AI to achieve unprecedented accuracy, which ultimately allows us to tackle problems that were impossible before.”

The system can pinpoint every single plant, leaf, fruit, shoot, cane and trunk, geotagging and building a profile of each plant. The data is processed in real-time as the vehicle moves through the vineyard before being uploaded to the cloud and presented to vineyard managers via a tailor-made dashboard.

The system can pinpoint every single plant, leaf, fruit, shoot, cane and trunk, geotagging and building a profile of each plant. The data is processed in real-time as the vehicle moves through the vineyard before being uploaded to the cloud and presented to vineyard managers via a tailor-made dashboard.

In 2021, Cropsy benefited from taking part in both the Sprout Accelerator and Startmate Accelerator, while the company has also received funding support from Callaghan Innovation.

From early beginnings, developing the first version of the system in Ali’s garage, using plants around his garden to refine the technology, the company will soon have around 1,200 hectares of vines under management.

Although the system is still at the pre-production phase, the four founders have big plans for the future. “Looking at the next five, 10 years, Cropsy’s goals cover the way that we capture, optimise, forecast, and then automate,” says co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Rory Buchanan. “So, creating that digital twin of your vineyard that enables you to start making optimisations and informed and safe decisions. So you can imagine from a sustainability point of view potentially being able to double the yield of your grapes and what that means in terms of climate change and the growth commercially as well.”

Following on from such optimisation will be the creation of effective forecasting tools, to allow growers to predict future changes.

“Currently we build a profile for every plant,” Ali explains. “And everything in the photo that we’ve detected belongs to that plant. So, bunch count, cluster count, berry count, pests and disease, the location of the trunk, the number of canes that are attached to that trunk during the winter, which can influence your pruning. And from that foundational level of capability, is the basis for all our future AI models."

Sprout Accelerator

With Cropsy’s four founders coming from engineering and data science backgrounds, the team found the business-focused mentoring and workshopping of the Sprout Accelerator invaluable. Established in 2015 as an accelerator by The Factory, they have already accelerated 59 companies, with another 10 about to go through the first of two 2022 Accelerators.

The programme focuses on three core areas that enable scalable growth: connections to a global network; domain knowledge to help develop innovation; and capital raising preparation through business plan development and investment pitch practice. As well as Cropsy, other successful alumni include Arepa, Farmote, Onside and Soochi.

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