Sep. 27, 2012 at 8:32 PM ET
Winemaking is the latest industry to be hit by robot fever: French inventors have created a robot that rolls among the grapevines, checking and perhaps pruning as it goes.
A wine grower in France complained three years ago to Christophe Millot that they were always short on staff. Millot designed the Wall-Ye robot, which is indeed named after Pixar's trash-collecting WALL-E, and the pair have been working together on it ever since.
Wall-Ye moves around on treads and is equipped with a number of cameras for navigation and inspection of vines. It navigates by GPS, but also recognizes each plant individually and can carry out special instructions or follow up on previous work.
There are plans to make it able to prune vines and eventually pick grapes, but for now it is limited to less complicated tasks. But checking for bugs, disease, temperature variations and soil problems are important parts of running a vineyard — and they can be tedious.
Another winemaker, Claire Gazeau-Montrasi, explains in the AFP video above that she would welcome a robot that took care of the most boring jobs. Like a Roomba or similar household robot, it can do its job slowly but surely, working around its owner's schedule.
At €25,000, or around $32,000, Wall-Ye isn't cheap, though there are larger and more expensive systems that are capable of more. Automation of agriculture hasn't made it to vineyards quite yet because of the delicate nature of the task, but that may soon change, with robots like Wall-Ye leading the charge.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.