Virtual Vineyards: Using Microchips and GPS to Improve Vineyard Management

In this day and age, nearly everything is computerized.  From cars to microwave, and from refrigerators to electric toothbrushes, so many items we use in our lives have some sort of computer built in (even if it’s just a small microchip).  Even the simple labeling of grape vines has come down to being computerized, and the applications do not stop there.  In places such as the European Union, grape vines are required to be labeled according to their genetic and sanitary characteristics.  Often, these labels would be easily removable and may or not be associated with an individual plant (perhaps just a row).  In the past several years, scientists have been coming up with a better way to identify and label grapevines, resulting in the creation of a microchip based on RFID technology.

Basically, RFID technology (radio frequency identification) uses radio waves through an electronic tag to some sort of reader, which serves to identify or track an object.  Small microchips with this type of technology can be implanted directly into grape vines, in order to help track and identify plants without causing any damage to the plant itself.  Something that hasn’t been done up until recently is combining this RFID identification technology with a global positioning system (GPS/GIS) which could function as a virtualization of the entire vineyard itself on a single computer screen or mobile device, which could have significant implications for vineyard management.

A combined RFID microchip and GPS/GIS system would potentially be able to monitor vineyards remotely, keep records of plant health on every plant in the vineyard, and create detailed and accurate vineyard maps that allow for simpler vineyard management.  In a phrase, this type of system would function as a “virtual vineyard”, which could have many different implications.

A group of scientists from Italy, the paper published earlier this year in the journal Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, aimed to study this very system, for use in mobile and desktop systems, which would utilize free software that makes it more accessible to anyone who wanted to use it.  They inserted microchips directly into the pith of the grape vines, 3 cm below the grafting point.  Plants were monitored via GPS technology, of which was easily compatible with widespread software such as GoogleTM Earth.

In order to test for the accuracy of the system, the correlation between grapevine identity and GPS coordinate was measured.  Then, the computer-generated information was compared with identity and location information that was manually collected.  Performance, accuracy, and human emotional response were also calculated.  Performance was defined as the average number of steps required for users to acquire information about a plant.  Accuracy was defined as the average number of successes in acquiring accurate information about 30 plants.  Finally, human emotional response was defined as whether or not the user would recommend the system to a colleague.

So, does this system work?  Can we really create a “virtual vineyard”?

After comparing the GPS data with the manually collected plant identification and location data, and evaluating the usability:

  •       The microchip system showed an accuracy of 98.3%
  •       The working time was approximately 58 seconds per plant.
  •       There were no erroneous records.
  •       The average number of steps required to collect information about a particular plant was 5.6, with a 97.3$ accuracy rate.
  •       Finally 100% of the users indicated they would recommend the software to a colleague.

The results of this study show promise for integrating GPS technology with measuring and monitoring plants in a vineyard, which will likely have many positive implications for vineyard management.  By giving vineyard managers the ability to step back and observe the entire vineyard at the touch of a button, it opens the doors for easier vineyard management, and provides a very useful tool in the identification and monitoring of individual plants without having to go directly into the field (though, of course, regular vineyard visits will still be necessary for other purposes such as checking maturation, etc).  This system will provide many benefits, including accessing information regarding vineyard health remotely, and better facilitating remote consultations.

By integrating this microchip/GPS/GIS system with a free-to-use software package, the benefits of using this type of advantaged vineyard management technology would be readily available and usable to any vineyard manager who desired to take advantage of its power.  

I’d love to hear what you all think!  For those of you readers who own to work in vineyards:  would this sort of technology be useful to you?  What sort of technology would be helpful to you in your vineyard?  I’d love to hear what non-vineyard readers think as well!  Please feel free to leave your comments below!

Source: doi: 10.1016/j.compag.2010.12.013
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!

6 comments for “Virtual Vineyards: Using Microchips and GPS to Improve Vineyard Management

  1. CALO
    October 15, 2011 at 3:37 am

    Can you post a link to the research paper mentioned, or the abstract?
    Thanks!

  2. October 15, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Hi CALO,

    Absolutely! You may find the abstract here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/

    It gives you the ability to purchase the article as well, or, if you have access to a library that has it (or has access to it via interlibrary loan), that would be a better idea.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. WineKnurd
    October 18, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Hmm do I detect a hint of radiowaves in my Barolo? :)

  4. October 18, 2011 at 11:30 am

    I'd rather that than gamma ;)

  5. REDCloud EV
    December 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Thank you Rebecca for this post. I am happy to hear that there's a dialogue going on this area of technology, we are building ATVs for viticulture that we expect to address some of these "digitalization" of the vineyards. Best, Melissa Brandao

  6. January 3, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Melissa! I find the application of GPS technologies in vineyard management very fascinating, and am looking forward to hearing more about the developments of it in use! That's great to hear that you're currently working on similar technologies, and hopefully we'll all hear more about it in the near future!

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