The age when vineyards are operated by robots has arrived. As you read this, a robot could well be helping to cultivate grapes that might be used in your next glass of vino.
This is what the French start-up VitiBot is busy with. Vitibot provides winegrowers with robotics and AI so that they are able to radically change their work methods while still maintaining their competitive edge. Its robot, Bakus, helps to reduce the use of chemicals which pollute the air, water, and land and that are suspected of causing serious diseases. All this can be done without the need to resort to manual labor.
Bakus is an electric, autonomous and intelligent robot. It eases the winegrower’s workload, reduces their ecological footprint and improves the quality of the final product for wine drinkers.
VitiBot’s founder comes from vintner’s stock himself, hence his passion for this field. The start-up is aiming to combine modern-day technology with the traditional art of the winegrower. Basically, it wants to provide all the advantages that are available nowadays without compromising on the quality of the product. And do this while also taking care of the environment.
A proof of concept eventuated after studying the market which established that vintners were ready to take on robotics. Interest was bolstered by regulatory developments concerning chemical products. An initial series of 6 Bakus robots was subsequently completed in 2019; a €3.5 million fundraising campaign financed this. And they are currently in the process of raising a further €10 million in order to fund series production. They are planning to enter the market for French and European vineyards in particular over the next 2 years.
Innovation Origins had a brief chat about the start-up with Aurore Lecrocq, part of the communications team at Vitibot.
How does the technology work? Did you invent the technology?
Vitibot has designed a product ththey have named BAKUS, which is a multipurpose robot. This robot is 100% electric and 100% autonomous. Consequently, BAKUS is able to operate independently and can do that night and day. And yes, VitiBot did design its own technologies and has already filed several patents for the robot and its tools.
What are the uses it can have?
Winegrowers are able to use Bakus to do the soil work, i.e., mechanical weeding and threshing – instead of using chemical strippers. Spraying is also done in a very controlled and limited fashion.
What was the motivation behind the creation of Vitibot?
Well, Cedric Bache, VITIBOT’s founder’s father, is a winegrower in Champagne, where the start-up was set up. So, the passion was there from the beginning. Yet we also want to encourage winegrowers to meet environmental, societal and safety challenges and keep their operating costs competitive. That’s how VITIBOT was born.
What makes VitiBot so different from other similar startups?
First of all, the robot was designed from scratch by our engineering team. They integrated the latest technologies that can be adapted to all kinds of vineyards. Also, our robot can navigate its environment autonomously with its sensors, day or night. BAKUS was designed to be as efficient as possible by using only electric actuators.
As a result, BAKUS only requires about €1 worth of electricity, whereas conventional machines use around 10 liters of diesel per hour. The tools take advantage of the robotic platform so as to provide a more efficient and consistent work output. This in turn drastically reduces the need for agrochemicals. Associated services can be accessed via an online platform. Plus it compiles all the data necessary to report on the health of the vines and make it easier to keep a check on how the vines are being looked after.
Can the robot be used for something else other than wine?
No yet. But, in a few years, we will adapt our technologies for other markets. We have already been approached to work in other areas.
Was there ever a moment when you thought of giving up?
No. Not for me.
What has been the most gratifying moment?
Yes, our victory last year at the robotics competition organized by the Champagne Committee was a major highlight. That’s because it signified that our technology’s value has been recognized by the professionals.
What can we expect in the future?
Right now VitiBot is still busy with a prototype. After the initial €3.5 million funding, we are aiming for a €10 million investment by the end of 2019 in order to fund the scaling up of our activities in France and across Europe. We are aiming to become the leader in vineyard robotics in France, Europe and all over the world.
What is your ultimate goal?
To revolutionize winemaking methods so as to make them safer and more environmentally friendly all around the world.