Robo Revolution: Pernod Ricard’s 19 OXIN Bots Transform Vineyard Operations

Pernod Ricard, a prominent winery in New Zealand’s Marlborough region, has revolutionized its vineyard operations by deploying a fleet of 19 OXIN machines. These automated robots are designed to handle a variety of tasks, such as mowing, herbicide spraying, trimming, and defoliating, across the winery’s extensive 2,400 hectares of vineyards. This ambitious move towards automation aims to enhance both efficiency and safety, although it comes with its own set of logistical and technical challenges.

Future Farming recently spent half a day with Pernod Ricard’s team to gain firsthand insights into the operation and management of these advanced machines. The OXIN robots, powered by 130hp Cummins engines and equipped with large diesel tanks, can operate for extended periods without frequent refueling. Their robust design is complemented by advanced safety systems, including lidar and cameras that detect obstacles and nearby humans, ensuring operational security while minimizing the risk of accidents.

David Allen, the vineyard transition manager at Pernod Ricard, emphasized the versatility and robustness of these machines. “Multi-tasking is key, because there is always something to do in a vineyard, so we can keep them busy all year,” he noted. However, Allen also pointed out some challenges, such as frequent stops caused by overly sensitive safety systems and connectivity issues that still impact operational efficiency.

The implementation of these robots began in 2020, with the machines arriving in patches of five. The oldest robot now has over 2,500 operational hours, while the newest machines have around 500 hours. Thanks to a strong collaboration with the manufacturer, continuous improvements are being made. One significant upgrade is the “Oxnav” double navigation system, which uses AB line references and lidar to adapt and adjust within the row, significantly enhancing working quality. Additionally, the robots now feature advanced safety measures, including front and rear cameras and bumpers, capable of detecting humans up to 15 meters away.

During the site visit, Future Farming observed the complexities of managing a fleet of 19 robots. Each robot is stationed within large 400-hectare plots and performs all required tasks, with operators ensuring that all necessary inputs—fuel, water, chemicals—are readily available. The operational strategy involves spacing the robots sufficiently apart to avoid interference and assigning specific rows to each robot. Regular maintenance is performed weekly by the OXIN team, and remote updates are applied as needed to keep the machines running smoothly.

Despite the advancements, challenges remain. Connectivity issues persist, even with two Starlink systems around the field. Operators reported that the machines still experience about 20 minor stoppages per day, primarily due to the safety protocols misidentifying vines or tall grass as humans. Additionally, tool changeovers can take up to half a day, and the current operational strategy requires leaving 15 rows between working machines, complicating logistics.

From a long-term profitability perspective, David Allen is optimistic. Although the fuel consumption of the robots is comparable to traditional tractors, their ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously offers a significant advantage. However, the speed of operations can be hindered when slower tasks dictate the pace. Allen is considering enabling the robots to handle up to three tasks at once to maximize labor and fuel efficiency. He also envisions deploying larger fleets of robots, potentially six managed by just one operator, to accelerate profitability beyond initial projections.

Environmentally, the use of these robots could significantly reduce the vineyard’s carbon footprint. By decreasing the number of machine passes and associated soil compaction, the overall soil health improves, contributing to lower CO2 emissions.

In conclusion, while Pernod Ricard’s deployment of OXIN robots represents a significant leap towards automation in viticulture, it also highlights the ongoing challenges and opportunities for further efficiency improvements. As technology continues to evolve, the potential for these machines to enhance productivity and sustainability in vineyard operations remains promising.

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