Grapevines Need A Gentle Trim? Call Robo Pruner

Tending a vineyard isn't just sunny-day work. Even before the snow melts in such grape belts as upstate New York, vines must be pruned to ensure an optimum harvest. It is the most labor-intensive vineyard chore--or will be until researchers at Cornell University finish their new robot.

Pruning vines has proved a tough job for robots. The vine has "tortuous bends and crooks," notes Cornell professor emeritus of agricultural engineering Wesley W. Gunkel, whose team has developed a sophisticated vision system. One video-camera eye nods up and down, while a second scans back and forth, to help a computer keep trimming shears a safe distance from the main stalk. Although the robot hasn't ventured out yet, manufacturers are interested, says Gunkel--probably because 33 years ago, another Cornell group uncorked the widely used mechanical grape harvester. Now, the pruning robot will be mounted on the harvester's chassis.

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