Why Odense, Denmark, Remains a Robotics Innovation Hotbed

City complex at Odense harbor, Denmark.

June 27, 2019      
John Santagate

In the U.S., we often consider three major areas as the “hubs” of robotic innovation – Boston, Pittsburgh, and Silicon Valley. However, a small city in Denmark cannot be overlooked when considering its past and current contributions to the modern robotics marketplace. Odense, Denmark, with a population of just over 200,000 people, has quickly become a hotbed for robotics innovation.

If you’re not already familiar with Odense, you are most certainly familiar with some of the companies that have come from this region, including RBR50 2019 winners Universal Robots, Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR), and OnRobot.

Odense Map Google Maps

Map Data: Google, GeoBasis-DE/BKG (©2009)

Much like Boston, the Odense region has become a hub in part due to early successes in robotics from the region. Boston is known for its education system, including MIT, but also as the home of early robotics companies such as iRobot, and Kiva Systems. Much of Boston’s success can be attributed to the alumni network from these companies. Indeed many current robotics companies in the Boston area have leadership that can be traced back at some time to these original pioneers.

A similar dynamic has played out in Odense and its relationship with Universal Robots and MiR. These two companies, each founded in the Odense region, have experienced great success, and have become innovation incubators that spur budding entrepreneurs to develop their own robotics businesses. Given the market-leading position in collaborative robot arms that UR holds, people in the region consider it to be the world capital for collaborative robotics. In addition, the founders of UR and MiR are also active investors, working with other young robotics companies to develop the next big robotic innovation.

Universal Robots HQ Odense Denmark

The Universal Robots headquarters. Image: John Santagate

OnRobot, recognizable as an end-of-arm tooling company that made a series of strategic acquisitions in 2018 (including Purple Robotics), has made Odense its home. The company is quickly building the relationships, portfolio, and market share to become a major player in the collaborative robotics end effector market. Its proximity to UR has helped foster and build partnerships between UR and OnRobot. With the UR alumni network at play, it should be noted that Enrico Krog Iveson, OnRobot’s CEO, was also CEO at Universal from 2008 to 2016. Success breeds success, and in the robotics industry, there is no question that several highly successful robotics companies have come from Odense, helping to build up the industry in the city.

The municipality itself has recognized this value, and is making significant investments to support the growth of robotics in the region. Over the past five years, the City of Odense has invested more than €6.5 million ($7.39 million) to support the development and growth of robotics-related companies. The city council also just announced a 10-year-plan built upon five pillars of growth. One of these pillars is to become the “biggest and best city in the world for robotics” over the course of the next 10 years. These are impressive aspirations for such a relatively small community, but the impact it has had over the past several years is just as impressive.

Odense Investor Summit

Image: The Odense Investor Summit connects robotics startups with investors. Image: John Santagate

During this week, the city held its annual Odense Investor Summit, an event that brought more than 40 startup and growth companies to showcase their innovations in an effort to seek funding from more than 150 investors who are looking for their next unicorn. Many of these young companies were from the Odense robotics cluster.

About the Odense cluster

The cluster is a collective of robotics companies, educational institutions, and research organizations that share a common thread of having some influence in Odense, working to build up the robotics industry in the city. The cluster includes about 130 companies, 33% of which are working in the area of collaborative robotics. Companies within the cluster employ more than 3,600 people, and have accounted for a combined revenue of €763 million (more than $200,000 per employee) in 2017.

Keep in mind these figures only represent the size of the robotics industry in Odense. Beyond the region, the robotics industry in Denmark delivered €2.4 billion in revenue in 2017, and employs more than 8,500 people.

The following are examples of some notable companies from the cluster that are focusing on commercial service robotics:

  • Blue Ocean Robotics is a bit of a startup factory, with the charter to develop innovative uses for robots and then, after commercialization and scale, exit. The current product, nearly ready for exit, is a mobile robot designed to autonomously disinfect hospital rooms by leveraging a tower of UVC ray-emitting lights that are common in hospital sanitization processes.
  • ROEQ is a spinout from MiR that produces accessories, such as roller tops and conveyance tops, for MiR robots that it sells through the MiR TradeForum.
  • KOBOTS is building a voice-controlled power tool enhancement for construction. The company claims to have produced a 3x productivity improvement by allowing construction workers to use natural language to communicate cuts to machines, which then autonomously cuts materials used in construction.
  • Cobot Lift is a UR accessory company working to enhance the payload capacity of UR robots. The most powerful UR robot has a maximum payload of 10kg, Cobot Lift creates an accessory that can increase this to up to 30kg.
  • TriVision produces machine vision systems designed for inspections. The company has a strong portfolio of customers in the food packaging industry, and targets quality improvement and waste reduction as the core values it seeks to improve for its customers.

These few vendors represent just a small example of the robotics innovations that are coming out of Odense.  When speaking with the people here, you can immediately sense the immense, and well deserved pride that exists around their region’s role in the robotics industry.  The emergence of Odense as a robotics hub can be attributed to three key factors: successes of early innovators and their eagerness to share their success with the community, commitment of the community itself as the municipality is actively investing, and a culture that holds innovation and adaptability as core elements of its being.

IDC's John Santagate discusses robotics startup lessons.About the author: John Santagate is Research Director, Commercial Service Robotics, at IDC. He provides research, reports, and guidance around the market for the use of non-traditional robotics in business. Follow him here on LinkedIn or Twitter.