The Group Grands Chais de France (GCF), which includes more than 3,000 hectares of vineyards in France, has pioneered Naio’s Ted robot since it saw the light of day. Pierre-Edouard Boyoud, vineyard manager at Château de la Galinière, shares with us his experiences with the first and second version of the Ted robot.
The Ted robot from Naïo Technologies is a vineyard straddling robot that integrates a wide range of modular tools. A first version of this machine arrived in French vineyards in 2018. After a dozen machines marketed and three seasons of tests in French vineyards, Naïo launched a second version of this robot in 2021.
The story between Group GCF and Naïo Technologies begins in 2018. Robotics being the core of the group’s development strategy, the domain of La Galinière and few other pilot domains have been selected by Group GCF to experiment with field robots. Since that time, the group has invested in different ways, from weeding services to actually buying robots purchase, and they have been experimenting with various systems, such as Naïo’s Ted and the Vitibot Bakus.
The Vitibot Bakus is a viticultural straddle robot that integrates a wide range of modular tools. After careful consideration, French wine grower Yannick Robiglio decided to buy one. He has been working with it for a year now. Read all about his experiences in this article.
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Pierre-Edouard Boyoud is the vineyard’s crop manager and oversees the robots working on the estate. Convinced that robotics are the future in viticulture, he was won over by the concept of the first version of the Ted robot. However, when an additional 60 hectares of vineyard were taken over, the estate’s priorities changed. He realised that the robot did not yet fit into a context where productivity had become the priority.
Why was your vineyard selected to start working with the robot?
“With 45 hectares of organic vines and 60 hectares of young plantation, tillage represents a considerable challenge on our estate. To host the project, we needed to have a well-divided plot of land, with large plots, and a team interested and motivated to follow the evolution of the robot.
In 2020, the first version of Ted arrived in our vineyard as a service. An employee of Naïo was operating the machine and we were paying each month. The first version of Ted was doing great, even if the mechanics were too light to work the soil. The robot did lack in terms of battery autonomy.
The results of the first season of use were mixed and when it came time to renew the machine we hesitated. The numerous evolutions that the manufacturer seemed to have integrated into the second version convinced us to buy this second version of Ted in June 2021.”
Did it take a long time to get used to operating the robot?
“No, a half-day of training with the machine is enough to be able to program it and make necessary adjustments.
Until now, we needed a remote control to operate the machine and a second remote control for the emergency stop button. Then on the robot, there is a screen placed on the side which allows you to do adjustments and to program the robot.
Both the remote controls and the man-machine interface are very easy to use, even if I think that the ergonomics could be improved. First, there is no feedback via the remote control of what is happening on the screen of the robot. I also regret that we don’t have access to a mobile application, that would simplify the use and we could monitor the robot in real time from a distance.”
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How did it go once you really started working with the robot?
“Within our group, we have set up a monitoring table for all the robots within the company, that’s how we monitor all our projects and measure the progress the machines make in terms of evolution. When we work with new technologies, the beginning is always complicated because we are beta tester. We had many adjustments to make for everything related to guidance. During the first months, I had the feeling that the manufacturer still lacked feedback on their machine and its operation in real-life conditions.”
What are the biggest improvements of the second version of Ted compared to its predecessor?
The battery autonomy went from only 4 to 5 working hours per day to 7 to 8 hours by correcting a production error.
We also had problems with overheating of the safety box when the machine was working under normal conditions. The manufacturer has resized the fan to increase its cooling capacity, since then we have had no more problems with it stopping due to overheating.
More recently, we have received a new remote control. The old one which suffered from signal interference and triggered safety stops.”
How are service and maintenance organised?
“The service and maintenance are managed directly with the manufacturer. We have subscribed to the Ted service pack which costs around €2,000 per year. It includes a 24h Hotline, the various RTK GPS subscriptions, surveying, updates and for the moment we do not pay any repair costs.
In most cases we have the machine up and running again within two days
With all breakdowns, we work directly with Naïo’s representative who tries to solve the issue remotely. We are lucky, because the technician always responds very quickly. In most cases we have the machine up and running again within two days.
Nevertheless, I still regret the fact that there is no remote diagnostics; the manufacturer cannot remotely detect and fix any malfunctions or perform software updates. We import the software updates ourselves via a USB stick.”
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Did you have to change the way you cultivate your crops for the robot?
“Our vineyard needed very little modifications since we have been working the soil mechanically for more than 8 years. The robot required little change in our plots because overall our rows are straight, and stakes were already in place to protect the young plants.
We use the field robot as a complement to our existing machines. At this stage of the robot’s development, we can’t adapt our entire tillage strategy to it. We have 105 hectares to work 3 to 4 times a year, with only 4 tractor operators.
The robot does not replace the tractor
The logistics of the robot remain time-consuming, and its use still requires a full-time tractor operator in the background. We add two or three extra passes with the robot to improve our weed management in the plots that are under high weed pressure. The robot does not replace the tractor, but rather complements it in a context of soil maintenance. This is a comfortable situation for us, since we don’t have to drastically change our working methods, however I am aware of the fact that we are not exploiting the full potential of the machine.”
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How do you currently use the robot?
“We have a part of the estate with plots of land up to 9 ha, which are adjacent, relatively flat and above all fenced. Ideal conditions for the robot to work well, on average we can do 3 ha per day with Ted.
We use Kress fingerweeders at a driving speed of 4 km/h. That translates into a theoretical capacity of 1 ha/h. However, with U-turns and stops, in practice it is around 0,80 ha/h.
With the more aggressive tools such as the intervines blades, we work at 2,5 km/h and only in the installed vines. We tried to use them in young plantations, but we suffered too much damage. In my opinion, these mechanical tools are not sensitive enough and too aggressive, so I have ordered a new type of discs that I’m hoping will work bette rin our young plantations.
The breakdowns that occurred during the first season ended up demotivating the operators
This year we covered less than 10 ha with the machine, which is clearly below our expectations. I have identified two reasons for the lack of use of the robot. The first is that with the recent takeover of 60 hectares of plantation, the time we can devote to the machine has greatly decreased. In addition, the breakdowns that occurred during the first season ended up demotivating the operators.
Productivity is always my numer 1 priority. I understand the potential of the machine, but I also see the time it takes to get good results, and that time is unfortunately no longer available now.”
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What is the difference between working with a tractor and the Ted robot?
“From what I have seen so far, the tractor allows you to work more accurately and allows you to adapt more quickly ot the circumstances. Although I am convinced that in the end a robot will do a better job and has more precise navigation, having an operator on the tractor changes everything. Until the robot can work fully autonomously, I doubt that it can be better than a tractor.
The electric robot is of course quieter than a tractor, there are no diesel fumes, which makes it more likeable than a tractor. Besides, I think that we could easily save 8-10 liter of fuel per hectare per passage.”
How do you imagine the Ted robot evolving in the coming years?
“I would like it to become more autonomous and more robust. For the moment, the frequency of stops and breakdowns is hurting us. Without all the stops, we could match the productivity of tractors. A perfect functioning robot would make us more flexible, and allow an operator to work with several machines simultaneously.
As for the other tasks I would like to automate in the vineyard, ideally, I am thinking of crop protection and data collection in the vineyard. A robot could for instance spray at night. But it’s still a bit too early to let a robot perform such tasks, as they are so technical and crucial to the harvest.
A fleet of smaller robots would be more adapted to our vineyard and to our needs
From a personal point of view, I think that a fleet of smaller robots would be more adapted to our vineyard and to our needs. Robots that are less heavy, less powerful, therefore less energy consuming, less fast and more autonomous, would allow us to maintain the soil by regularly scratching the soil between and on the row. With the equivalent of a tractor operator to manage and supervise the robot fleet.”
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What advice would you give other farmers who are considering buying a robot?
“Before thinking about investing in a robot, you should ask yourself why a robot. You must determine your needs and constraints. In our case, we could have foreseen that the robot’s productivity was not going to be optimal, since it’s under development. Also make sure you see the machines and how they work in the field, by having trials on your farm for example. Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback from other users in the field, also when it comes to how how quickly the manufacturer reacts when there are technical problems, which is a very important thing when you’re working this type of machine.
It is also important to get to know several manufacturers and several machines, it allows you to see where they are, and where they are going. If a machine seems to correspond to your needs, I recommend renting it first. That way, you can get an idea of how well the robot fits in your operation, and how your employees react to it. Your employees must be interested in technology, otherwise it will be difficult to find someone who can and wants to operate the robot.”
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