Would you ever think that drones could be involved in the process of making the wine you’re sipping? That’s probably not how the ancient romans did it, but now the most innovative Swiss vineyards apparently do. In the following story, Wingtra and Geoplan teams report about vineyard surveying in the West of Switzerland, on the banks of Lake Biel.
Vineyard surveying: What fine Swiss wine and VTOL drones have in common
The 100 ha vineyard area adorning the left bank of the lake Biel in Western Switzerland is considered to be a landscape of national importance and for a reason: Not only do these vineyards produce some of the finest wines in Switzerland but they also a host a rich natural ecosystem. However, this wasn’t always so.
Prior to the year 2000, the properties were highly fragmented resulting in high production costs. Further, the land boundaries and growth of vineyards were also a cause for concern among ecologists for the preservation of flora and fauna in the area. The solution? The fragmented properties merged under RGZ TLTA (Rebond merger Twann Ligerz Tüscherz-Alfermée). With clearly defined boundaries and pathways, renovation of boundary walls, and allocation of area specifically for the natural ecosystem, the vineyards saw a new boost: both for sustainable wine production as well as the preservation of the existing rich ecosystem.
The maintenance and honoring of the merger, though, requires regular cadastral surveying of the properties and pathways, i.e., the generation of maps to delineate ownership for taxation purposes. But the same sloping terraces that give the vineyards their famed beauty also make for a challenging case for surveying: graduated terrain, narrow pathways, and geometrically irregular boundaries make traditional land surveying cumbersome. So this year, when the task of vineyard surveying fell to the GeoplanTeam AG, the surveyors chose a completely new way to do their job – a bright orange VTOL drone, the WingtraOne.
The background of the project
Comprising about 25 employees, Geoplanteam AG is known for its work in the fields of surveying, geoinformatics and environmental technology. The team focuses on providing high quality individual solutions to its customers’ problems on time. This time they were responsible for some sensitive measurements: reallocation of the vineyard plots, the paths and wall constructions, as well as the re-measurement of these components from official measurement.
To understand the complexity of stakeholders involved in this vineyard survey, it is important to know some facts. Before the RGZ TLTA merger, the 110 ha vineyard area consisted of 334 properties throughout the perimeter, with 1157 different plots. A single farm could consist of anywhere between 9 and 59 plots with each plot sized 0.2 acres.
Since the merger, the vineyards now support a community of 34 full-time and 10 part-time farms. Further, two changes were also made during the merger to support the ecosystem. Firstly, 7% of the land from the consolidated perimeter was reserved as ecological compensation area. To strengthen this further, dry stone walls marking the boundaries were restored. Secondly, the forest that borders the land was adapted to the stepped edges of the vineyard.
Thus, to satisfy all the different stakeholders, landowners and the ecologists, land boundaries need to be honored and checked for accuracy regularly.
The WingtraOne’s solution to a demanding vineyard surveying task
As the GeoplanTeam set out for this task, the challenging terrain of the vineyards made the option of aerial surveys lucrative. However, even with drone solutions, limited area to take off and land soon proved to be a difficulty: there were only a few continuous level spaces available for the flight due to the terraces cutting into the terrain for the vineyards. Further, the sensitive nature of the survey demanded high accuracy.
The WingtraOne emerged as a natural choice in the face of these requirements. As the drone possesses vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, limited space wasn’t a problem. Thus, the GeoplanTeam chose a small 8 m x 10 m area on one of the vineyard terraces as the takeoff point. To ensure high accuracy, they used the full frame, 42 MP Sony RX1RII camera that came integrated with the WingtraOne drone. They were able to enhance accuracy further by planning the flights in minute detail where required with the WingtraPilot app, the easy-to-use flight planning software that accompanies the WingtraOne.
“The vertical take-off and landing capability as well as the good airspeed were ideal for efficiently completing this task on the steep northern shore of Lake Biel. In addition, the high resolution of the camera and the long flight time were very beneficial. Otherwise, the required criteria would have been met only with massive additional effort,” says Lukas Hurni of the GeoplanTeam after the project was completed.
The final dataset acquired by the GeoplanTeam consisted of a coverage of around 110 ha through nearly 5000 orthophotos with ground sampling distances (GSDs) ranging from 2.5 cm/px to 4 cm/px. These were distributed as follows:
These orthophotos were then further post processed and used to delineate the precise type and size of areas, as well as that of pavements, stone walls and paths. The official measurements of the vineyard area were then validated against the measurements conducted by the GeoplanTeam. Thus, with the combined diligence of the GeoplanTeam and the advanced technology of the WingtraOne, the stakeholders involved in the the RGZ TLTA merger were satisfied without compromising sustainable wine production or ecological protection efforts.
VTOL WingtraOne – an expert in challenging environments
The challenges of surveying in tough environments is not new to the WingtraOne. Indeed, some of its projects in the past have involved the WingtraOne in environments as difficult and diverse as the vast, windy Namib desert, where the drone was used for conducting volumetric measurements on Africa’s largest Uranium mine, while another project involved mapping of an 800 ha large area for the construction of wind fields in the cold, mountainous region of the Swiss Alps.
Besides surveying, the ease-of-use of WingtraOne, with its VTOL capabilities, high accuracy data collection and long flight range, have also made it a favorite among researchers. Some examples include glacier monitoring in Greenland, bird counting in Germany and wildlife monitoring of vulnerable sea mammals in Australia where the researchers operate the WingtraOne from a boat.
In all these different cases, drone use has been able to greatly reduce the risk to workers by dramatically shortening the time required on the field. The growing range of applications, thus, is not only helping to increase work efficiency but also saving lives of people and animals.
About the author | Adyasha Dash
Adyasha Dash works as a Software Developer at Wingtra, where she focuses on developing safe flight control and planning algorithms. When she is not tinkering with drones, you can find her writing about the ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Human Machine Interactions.