Sunday, 26 September 2021 15:30

Cropsy: Keeping a close eye on the vineyard

Written by  Mark Daniel
The Cropsy crew: Hank Chou, left, with company founders Rory Buchanan, Winston Su, Leila Deljkovic and Ali Alomari. The Cropsy crew: Hank Chou, left, with company founders Rory Buchanan, Winston Su, Leila Deljkovic and Ali Alomari.

Cropsy is on a quest to help viticulturists reach their full potential using a unique and scalable artificial intelligence computer-vision system. The Kiwi start-up won the Early Stage and Young Innovators Awards, along with cheques for $11,000, at the recent National Fieldays Innovation Awards.

The system is mounted to a tractor, utility terrain vehicle or ute, using its ‘eyes’ to pinpoint every single plant, leaf, fruit, shoot cane and trunk in realtime, as the vehicle passes through the vineyard. During the process, it eliminates sunlight, shadows and reflections to capture accurate colours and textures, regardless of the time of day or prevailing weather conditions.

The result is a ‘digital twin’ of the vineyard - in essence, a map showing areas of concern and patterns across the whole crop, allowing growers to see how a crop is performing or changing over time. Subsequent passes generate a broader picture, by gathering more data, allowing a more precise investigation of how things are changing over time.

Said to offer an untouched realm of crop monitoring, the system can provide early warning of pest incursion or diseases, allowing a targeted approach to treatment decisions that can help reduce crop losses, alongside providing estimates of crop yield to improve supply chains, while also identifying underperforming or dying plants in the domain. The system also allows precision replanting of new vines to replace failed plants.

Teaming up with Amazon Web Services, the company uses the global supplier for computing power, data storage, machine learning and providing customer insights. As an example of the scale of the project, Cropsy has captured over five million images of grapes since April 2020, typically processing 600,000 images per device on a weekly basis.

One of Cropsy’s four co-founders, Leila Deljkovic, says vineyard crops need constant attention, but the scale of some operations means that owners or managers don’t always have the ability or time to monitor every plant. “By mounting our cameras to a vehicle that moves through the vineyard on a regular basis, maybe mowing or spraying, the continually changing landscape of the vineyard can be assessed to make better management decisions.”

The company, formed on the back of a joint research project for their engineering honours degrees, came about after talks with Plant & Food Research, who had identified a need to monitor viruses in the vinicultural and horticultural arenas.

During recent trials, Cropsy has partnered with Pernod Ricard Winemakers, with a view to commercial placements in the coming season. This will be restricted to a selected group of growers, with an emphasis on geolocation of individual plants and a mapping of a plant’s key attributes.

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