Sydney Morning Herald

By Tim Barlass

It looks sinister, but this flying spy in the sky could ultimately improve the quality of wine you drink.

The German-made OktoKopter has been fitted with monitoring devices by an Australian team who hope to turn their services into a burgeoning business. With eight rotors, the unmanned aerial vehicle provides a stable platform for remote cameras and scanners that can also look beyond visible wavelengths into UV and infra-red spectrums.

It is being used to sweep low over vineyards to measure the levels of photosynthesis in the vines.

One of four PhD candidates on the project at the University of Tasmania, Steve Harwin, said: ''We can fly over the vineyard … and identify which parts are doing well and which may be best harvested separately from the rest. It could be the difference between producing a boutique wine or a $10 bottle of plonk.''

Mr Harwin recently won a fellowship to help him develop the business at Stanford University's Summer Institute for entrepreneurship, awarded by the United States Studies Centre based at Sydney University.

The scanning could be done by satellite but the infrequent passes overhead do not allow for regular monitoring and the cost of using a manned aircraft is prohibitive for small vineyards.

The OktoKopter is also about to be piloted in the Antarctic by Mr Harwin to monitor the impact of changes in temperature, wind speed and UV-B radiation on moss beds at Casey station.