Japanese engineers claim to have developed a robotic wine taster that is capable of distinguishing between 30 different varieties of blends of grape.
Scientists from NEC’s System Technologies laboratory and Mie University say the idea behind the robotic wine taster is to automate wine analysis so that retailers and custom officials can easily check that the wine in the bottle is the same as declared by the label.
The device is about twice the size of a three litre wine box and consists of a microcomputer and an optical sensing instrument. For analysis, a five millilitre sample of wine is poured into a tray in front of the machine. Light emitting diodes then fires infrared light at the sample and the reflected light is sensed by an array of photodiodes.
NEC researchers say that by identifying the wavelengths of infrared light that have been absorbed by the sample, wine-bot can correctly identify the unique organic components of 30 popular wines within 30 seconds. Since the combinations of these components are unique to certain wine-making regions, the wine-bot can even tell where the wine came from, they add.
John Corbet-Milward, head of technical and international affairs at the UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association has said that deliberate mislabelling of wine is a serious problem, and wine-bot will help in tackling this fraud.
"There always has been such fraud going on. If there has been a bad grape-growing year, for instance, it’s quite tempting for people to make up a blend of wines that’s difficult to spot. Any new machine that can identify wine fraud is potentially very interesting if it can speed up detection processes and reduce costs," New Scientist quoted him as saying.
He however, said that for a wine-bot to be truly useful it would need to be capable of distinguishing more than 30 flavours of wine correctly.
"This is because the global wine market includes thousands of wine varieties and blends. The acid test would be to test a machine against a team of qualified tasters," he said.
"There have been many attempts to do this but the calibration that is involved is truly enormous. You have to teach the sensor all the parameters of all varieties and blends of wine. Then you have to include all the subtle differences caused by the use of different yeasts and maturation environments. It’s a massively complex picture," said Geoff Taylor, managing director of Corkwise, a company that analyses wine to assess its quality said for a wine.
NEC officials say they are now working on extending the number of wines the device can recognise before it is commercialised.