Drones are headed to the vineyard

As a huge fan of science fiction, the fact that what I’ve read on the page is starting to show up in real life is pretty incredible. The thought of self driving cars, mind controlled prosthetic arms and DARPA’s ATLAS doing household chores gets me all giddy inside – hey Google get to work on a better Google Glass and I’m your guinea pig!

And now it seems that Sci-fi has come to the wine business. Yamaha announced recently that through years of testing and certification they are releasing the RMAX, an unmanned helicopter drone with tanks strapped to its sides that allow the copter to spray vineyards for louses and diseases. Wow.

This ain’t your typical hobbyist’s Millennium Falcon model drone. The RMAX weighs about 200 pounds, is 9 feet long tip to tip, 42 inches rung to rotor and takes two people to load in and out of a truck. It comes strapped with two 8 liter tanks for liquid spray and two 13 liter tanks for granular. It has a GPS system and a visual range of 400 feet. It also has a self monitor function that checks all its parts before flight and in-flight indicator lights that are clearly visible if anything goes wrong. It even has a hover function if the GPS drops out. Yeah, it’s pretty badass.

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And it could be a game changer for vintners. Vines don’t always grow in flat valleys but instead are often found on the slopes of steep hills. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to get a tractor on these inclines and incredibly labor intensive for a human with a back loaded sprayer. Also, the spray tractors used to maintain vineyards can impact soil and mess with the natural order of things – and nobody wants that. The RMAX could eliminate all that bad news. It can fly low and at a slow pace to ensure maximum coverage.

At over $100,000 an RMAX this may not catch on quickly, as people aren’t really buying them, but instead hiring companies that rent out their services, but there could be a day when your idea of a quiet, serene, bucolic vineyard could have a soft buzz of robots flying low in the air overhead, taking care of business.

And this is just me being naive but if you can use the RMAX for chemical spray could you also use it for organic or biodynamic farming? I mean damn, one could make the essential microbial tea that is natural fertilizer and do the same thing, right? Sustainable wine farmers are often seen as earth toned soft talking land lovers but what if you added robots? Whoa. Rows? Where we’re going we don’t need rows. Sorry had to say it.