UK – The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has invested GBP 12.5 million (USD 15.9 million) in 19 innovative projects including a cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) robotics technology that will boost productivity in UK’s viticulture sector.

The funding comes through the Farming Futures Automation and Robotics competition, which is part of Defra’s GBP 270 million (USD 343.3 million) Farming Innovation Programme (FIP) and is delivered by Innovate UK.

This DEFRA funded project explores new ways to modernize different agricultural practices in the Farming Innovation Programme by developing automation and robotic technologies to boost productivity, food security, and sustainable farming practices

The project will be delivered by Extend Robotics, a tech startup combining consumer VR technology, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to make it easier for people and machines to work together.

It is also crucial to note that the project, which is titled ‘Integrated Human-Augmented Robotics and Intelligent Sensing Platform for Precision Viticulture’ is a collaboration between Extend Robotics, Queen Mary University of London and Saffron Grange, an established leading producer of Premium Sparkling Wine in East Anglia.

Their combined expertise aims to develop AI-based solutions to enable the robotic automation of tasks such as pruning and harvesting.

The viticulture sector will become the latest industry to benefit from the introduction of virtual reality (VR) robotics technology, thanks to the new innovation program.

Despite a relatively small number of vineyards – a little more than 900 vineyards covering a combined area of around 10,000 acres, ’winegrowing’ is the UK’s fastest-growing agricultural sector.

Changes in weather and seasonal temperatures have driven production, with exports predicted to be worth as much as GBP 350 million (USD 444.8 million) by 2040.

With a well-publicized shortage of seasonal workers affecting horticulture which contains viticulture, the fastest growing sector in the UK, the project aims to reduce reliance on this form of manual labour.

This will reduce labor costs, while cutting emissions and the environmental impact of existing approaches.

Ultimately, they intend for the research project to significantly improve the productivity and sustainability of the UK viticulture industry.

This will contribute to the growth of the UK economy and provide the UK with a competitive edge in the global market.

Founder and CEO of Extend Robotics, Dr Chang Liu explains: “The viticulture industry in the UK may well be over 1,000 years old, but it has continually moved with the times. This is simply an exciting continuation of that progress.”

“Our technology will allow growers to remotely monitor crop health, identify potential issues early on, and take appropriate action. Using AI, they will then be able to automate general tasks and improve the efficiency of their operations over time, resulting in better overall crop quality and higher yields. We’re going to change the face – and future – of viticulture in the UK.”

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