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‘Smart’ slasher prototype developed

RD&A News | February 2022
28 Feb 2022
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A university research team has developed a prototype for a “faster, smarter and more efficient” undervine slasher – which is set to help growers wanting to move towards lower intervention farming.

The Semi-Automated Slasher (SAS) system – which uses sensor-controlled motion to deliver higher precision performance – has been developed by researchers at Flinders University in collaboration with Ledgard Pruning Systems.

Chief investigator Dr Amir Zanj, a Research Associate in Flinders’ Advanced Control System Research Group, said the slasher had the potential to resolve a number of issues that growers struggle with.

“Our ‘smart’ slasher has a faster operation than existing slashers, the finished grass cut is finer; and the operation is contact-free, meaning that vine trunks and young vines are not damaged. Importantly, it also reduces the need for specialised labour,” Dr Zanj said.

“In all, it offers a better outcome and savings in labour costs.”

The current solutions for mowing undervine growth are either to manually mow or use heavy duty slasher systems. 

“If the vineyard is small enough, it may be reasonable to manually mow the intra-row vegetation. However, due to the amount of labour required, as well as the potential to seriously injure grapevines, this solution is only used as a spot treatment,” Dr Zanj said. 

For larger scale vineyards, heavy duty slashers (mechanical impact systems) are commonly used.
Dr Zanj said while mechanical impact systems are effective in their simplicity, there are common issues among them, limiting their operational speed. 

“Also, the excessive care required to not damage any vines while operating the system requires hiring specialist drivers which leads to increased operational costs.”

How the smart slasher works

The smart slasher functions in three distinct phases: a sense phase, a plan phase and an act phase.

The sense phase uses a novel soft touch detection sensor to detect vine collision. The plan phase of the control system operates in real-time to create an ideal path for the system. Finally, the act phase of the control system has been developed as a three-state on-off controller, as the hydraulic actuator (which physically controls slasher head movement) is fed by a three-way valve at a constant flow rate.

Each phase is then combined to create an intelligent, “smart” slasher that is capable of avoiding vines.

“The main goal in this project was to develop a closed loop semi-automated slasher system that successfully fulfilled current market requirements – not requiring a specialist driver, operating at modulated speed, not damaging young vines and cost-effective. 

“We’ve been successful in achieving that and are now looking for an investor to partner with us in commercialising the prototype concept.”

The smart slasher was designed, equipped and prototyped for Australian domestic automation industry provider, Task Automation. The prototype is the first phase of a long-term vision towards a fully digitalised farm – the Automated Vineyard Management System.

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This content is restricted to wine exporters and levy-payers. Some reports are available for purchase to non-levy payers/exporters.