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Odense Robotics works with robot, drone and automation companies all over Denmark as part of a specialist cluster – in the hope that, within five years, robots will become a big part of Danish exports.
There are 14 approved cluster organisations in Denmark – associations with paying and non-paying members that work on public projects funded by the public sector.
Mikkel Christoffersen, CEO at Odense Robotics, said: “The clusters were selected by government ministries based on the country’s key positions of strength. They look for business and technology areas with target groups of companies, and they look at the impact these business and technology areas have on Danish exports.”
Besides robotics, other cluster organisations cover areas such as pharma, maritime, energy production, food and bio-resources, digital technologies and fintech.
Odense Robotics has grants from the Danish Board of Business Development and from the Ministry of Research and Education, which also offer grants to some municipalities where robot and drone companies play an important part in the economy.
“Although Denmark’s ecosystem around robotics has been growing for the last 35 years, our cluster didn’t start until 1 May 2015,” said Christoffersen. “In the beginning, we worked with a large group of companies in the city of Odense, because Odense is a global centre for robotics, focusing especially on collaborative robots.
“But the cluster has grown significantly in recent years and now we work with companies all over Denmark. There are more than 400 companies in Denmark working in robotics, drones or automation, employing a total of about 15,000 people in Denmark and in other countries.”
A key part of what the robotics cluster does is work with startups. After all, in any new industry, many companies are startups, and of the Danish companies working in robotics and drones, about 60% have been set up in the past 10 years.
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- Japan’s Softbank Robotics and Singapore-based UnaBiz are bringing IoT and robotics technology together to improve facilities management, among other applications.
- There is already a worldwide market for mobile robots, which are used in applications ranging from logistics to healthcare.
- The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has been awarded new funding to develop autonomous robots alongside industry and academia.
“In the startup area, we have an incubator – a physical incubator – that we run in partnership with the Danish Technological Institute’s robot centre in Odense,” said Christoffersen. “When selecting candidates for the incubator, we look for startups with a high degree of innovation. They must have a technology and a market that can scale up. They must have the right team to bring their product to market, and they must be 12 to 18 months away from bringing a product to the market.
“We are very selective, rejecting more than half of the companies that apply for the incubator. A board of industry representatives and investors help us choose the right companies, which we then bring into the incubator physically. They can stay there for 14 months, maybe 18 months, depending on the milestones they are working on.”
Christoffersen adds: “The companies get access to equipment to do development and testing, and we support them with specific areas of their product development, including building a prototype. We connect them with researchers from universities or research and technology organisations [RTOs], and then we help them develop a business plan, meet pilot customers and meet investors.”
The cluster also has a “scale-up” programme to support fast-growing companies that are in a different phase of their lifecycle than many of the other startups. Among other things, the scale-up programme supports companies in setting up global organisations and attracting the funding to support that.
The cluster performs various networking activities, with networks for CEOs, marketing, HR and supply chain. Groups of companies meet and work with challenges they share within these topics.
All of these activities have paid off – Odense Robotics has a measurably high success rate. Collectively, the 34 startups it have worked with in the past six years have attracted more than €37m in investment, and over 80% of the startups have a product on the market today.
Bright future for Danish robotics
Denmark is strongest in two different areas of robotics – collaborative robots and service robots. Collaborative robots – also known as cobots – are industrial robots that work alongside humans. They are safe and easy to program. In fact, very often they can be taught by showing them what to do, rather than by coding them to fit a specific application.
Service robots work alone and perform specific tasks in specific sectors. In recent years, many Danish service robot companies have been getting traction and selling service robots in fairly large quantities.
“For instance, a company called FarmDroid develops and markets a solar-driven robot for agriculture,” said Christoffersen. “And there’s a company called Cobod, which has robots that do 3D printing for construction. Then there’s UVD Robots, whose mobile robot solution uses UV technology to prevent and reduce the spread of infectious diseases. Or there’s QuadSAT, a company that develops and markets drones for calibration of satellite communication antennas. Another example is Lorenz Technology, which uses drones and AI [artificial intelligence] for inspection.”
Robotics is an area that is growing rapidly worldwide and in Denmark, with a large group of companies working within the collaborative robot area, and a smaller group working with service robots. Some Danish companies in these two groups are enjoying 30-40% average yearly growth.
That kind of growth is a large part of why the Danish robot and automation industry will need to attract and educate more than 10,000 people in the next few years. Odense Robotics contributes by providing insights about what the companies need now, and in the future, to research partners, such as universities and RTOs.
Christoffersen expects that over the next five years, the robot ecosystem will continue to grow, both within Denmark and globally. “We have an especially strong position with cobots, but we will also see a large number of startups developing innovative service robots,” he said. “Within five years, robots will be a really key Danish export.”