Robots equipped with ultraviolet lamps that patrol vineyards at night to treat diseases that can destroy them, researchers at Cornell AgriTech in New York and SAGA Robotics in Norway have developed.
Two such robots are being tested in Chardonnay vineyards in two areas in New York and are set to hit the market this year.
Research in Cornell on the use of ultraviolet radiation to eliminate the grapevine’s mildew has been underway since 1991, while in tests with the University of Florida, its control in strawberries was achieved. Recent tests in vineyards have shown that it is not possible to treat powdery mildew, but also another devastating disease, downy mildew.
Collaborations with other universities have also led to testing on other crops, such as zucchini, cucumbers, industrial hemp etc.
The UV-based technique is an important achievement against these diseases, as they have the potential to adapt quickly to pesticides.
‘For Chardonnay grapes we have effective suppression of the powdery mildew for a period of two years, with “treatment” once a week”,
said David Ganduri, a Cornell Agritech researcher who is leading the project. Also, the effect of pesticides on the environment is clearly greater.
Diseases have evolved along with the plants they affect, and often develop resistance to the chemical means of dealing with them; however their evolution has also given them an “Achilles heel”: adaptation to the natural cycles of light and darkness; ultraviolet radiation damages DNA, although many organisms have developed biochemical defenses against this kind of damage, activated by blue light in sunlight.
“What makes it possible for us to use ultraviolet radiation against these pathogens is its use at night,”
“At night pathogens do not receive blue light and the repair mechanism does not work.”
At the same time, researchers use lamps that provide a low dose of ultraviolet radiation, killing pathogens without harming plants.
In initial tests, the researchers used lamps on tractors; however, this method is not very practical, as overnight work is required; robots, on the other hand, are autonomous and can work seven nights a week, throughout the night.
At the same time, research is underway on the development of imaging technology in collaboration with scientists at Carnegie Mellon University that will identify and quantify the presence of the disease in the leaves of the vines, in order to adjust the intensity of light accordingly.