Automatic grape harvesting with 3D technology from ifm

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With EasyPilot, the manufacturer of multi-equipment carriers and harvesters, Grégoire, has created a sensor-assisted automatic line guidance system that boasts a precision of 3 cm without needing a GPS position signal.

A great success: and ifm has played a role in it.

No other beverage holds so many secrets and divides so many opinions as wine. Wine: The Italians claim it as their national beverage, and the cup of the everlasting covenant of the Christian faith is filled with it – for in wine is truth: “in vino veritas”. One truth about wine is that it is necessary to harvest grapes to produce it. And in our days which are marked by technological progress, the most important question is: man or machine?

The romanticised image of the grape harvest, which we often see in movies and which will surely have inspired one or the other Hollywood star to buy their own vineyard, actually looks quite different in reality. Considering that in Germany alone the average citizen drinks about 20 litres of wine per year, it becomes quite obvious how much work has to be done in how little time by about 80,000 German winemakers who cultivate and harvest wine on an area of about 102,000 hectares.

How is it possible to be successful against this background?

Success through technology: Many winemakers use state-of-the-art harvesting machines like grape harvesters instead of manual labourers. Grape harvesters offer various advantages. One hectare, for example, can be harvested in 3 to 5 hours. Achieving the same result with manual labour requires 40 to 60 workers.

How does an automatic grape harvester function?

The French company Grégoire is a manufacturer of grape harvesters. Their grape harvesters can additionally be equipped with an automatic line guidance system: the “EasyPilot”. This system boasts a precision of 3cm without depending on satellite signals.

The grape row is detected by ifm’s O3M 3D sensor system. It analyses the scene in front of the harvester “point by point” using ifm’s patented PMD technology (time of flight). By creating a digitised version of the scene in front of the machine, the general properties of the vines can be gathered and visualised in abstract form. Inaccuracies caused by vine branches from the side or high grass can be excluded.

While the grape harvester moves over the vines, it creates a tunnel beneath the driver’s cab. This tunnel is provided with glass fibre rods that create vibrations. These vibrations shake the vines, so that the grapes fall off. They tumble on a conveyor belt that transports them to a collecting container. A fan removes unwanted elements such as leaves and tiny branches. There is another sensor that looks down from above and that is mounted in a central position under the cab of the harvester. This sensor is directed at the bottom and determines the height and thickness of deposits. When the signal is processed, a guiding track is generated that visualises the grape row as a model. This model is used as a basis to calculate the ideal route for the harvester to take. When the machine is in the grape row, the driver starts the EasyPilot via the screen in the cab. Once the system is started, all the driver needs to do is have an eye on the operating speed and the tools – everything else is taken care of by the system. When the end of the grape row is reached, a visual and acoustic signal will inform the driver that the harvester needs to be turned around to move along the next grape row.

There were times when the time for the grape harvest was ordained by the government. Today, winemakers can decide for themselves, and with the grape harvesters from Grégoire, grapes can be harvested at any time – even at night.

Innovation pays off: Grégoire have won the innovation award for their new automatic line guidance system EasyPilot that is based on the O3M sensor system from ifm. The automatic grape harvester will be presented at the SITEVI, an important trade fair dedicated to viticulture.

The result of a long history. And the beginning of another success story for ifm: After they had adopted ifm’s 3D sensor technology, Grégoire also became fascinated with other ifm products, such as our controllers. Thanks to the grape harvest project, Grégoire has become a huge ifm fan.

The application was successfully implemented by ifm France.