October 09, 2017      

ODENSE, Denmark — Already a regional hub for robotics innovation and commercialization, the third-largest city in Denmark is now host to the UAS Denmark International Test Center & Cluster for drone testing.

UAS Denmark is supporting The Unmanned Systems (TUS) Nordics Conference & Exhibition here this week.

The test center for unmanned aerial systems (UAS), which opened earlier this year, includes dedicated airspace of 867 square kilometers (538.7 sq. mi.) over land and sea.

In addition, the International Test Center & Cluster has a 2,250-square-meter (7,381.8-sq.-ft.) hangar complete with laboratory facilities. Odense also offers access to university researchers and fast approvals of applications for drone test flights.

This interdisciplinary collaboration between institutions and companies is intended to create optimal conditions for drone testing.

Denmark hopes that the test center will complement its existing expertise in robotics, assisted-living technology, and design. Collaborative robot maker Universal Robots A/S is at the center of a growing automation ecosystem. The goal is to make the drone sector the fastest-growing industry in Denmark within five years.

“For the fourth Industrial Revolution, stakeholders need to be able to share information and analyze it,” said Brad Beach, the director of the UAS Center at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU). “The SDI has the largest public supercomputer in Denmark, and at Cortex Park, we have even more collaboration.”

Business Takeaways:

  • UAS Denmark’s International Test Center & Cluster is part of an initiative to build out Odense’s academic and industrial ecosystem for automation research and development.
  • The drone testing center allows flights of UASes weighing up to 150 kg (330 lb.), flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) to about 35 km (21.7 mi.), and flights up to an altitude of 1 km (3,280 ft.).
  • The test center and cluster has more than 150 members, including entrepreneurs, large multinationals, and Danish universities, as well as private and public users.

Government facilitates local UAS activities

An upside to drone testing in a small but developed country such as Denmark is that it’s easy to speak with regulatory authorities, noted Michael Larsen, commercial director of the UAS Denmark International Test Center & Cluster at Hans Christian Andersen (HCA) Airport. This has made it possible to create a fast and flexible approval process for drone flights.

“In many other countries, flying with drones is restricted to military areas, where the military has priority,” he said. “It is not like that here. Here we have free time to test.”

The combination of government incentives, academic institutions, and commercial opportunities in Odense has encouraged many customers and collaborators to join the drone testing initiative, Larsen explained.

“In Europe, it is unique because we have the approval competence in-house,” he said. “This enables us to provide a good service to our customers. They don’t have to schedule time for a difficult process with the authorities. We can reserve both space and time for testing the drones.”

“We have a partnership with the University of Southern Denmark that share similar features with the models of the drone test centers in Texas and New Mexico.” Larsen said. “The University of Southern Denmark builds laboratory facilities that everyone can benefit from. We have an attractive ecosystem with research, education, investors, and companies.”

Danish government officials at drone testing center.

SOren Pind, Danish minister for higher education, and Peter Rahbaek Juel, mayor of Odense, look at a Sky-Watch UAS. Photographer: Michael Yde Katballe

Peter Rahbaek Juel, the mayor of Odense, articulated his vision for the drone center and Danish industry.

“Together, we must support and develop the Danish drone industry,” he said. “Expanding the partnership to include the University of Southern Denmark is a massive win for the industry. [It was] the first university in Europe to focus on drones. … They started a master’s degree in drone technology in 2015. On top of that, the university plans to spend $4 million on advanced drone laboratories.”

Drone inspections can save money over the use of helicopters, noted Soren Pind, the Danish minister for higher education and science.

“They can help within agriculture and farming, fishery, nature and environmental protection, and energy and distribution,” he said.

The number of companies using drones in Denmark has increased from 24 in 2014 to over 800 this year, according to Ole Birk Olesen, the Danish minister of transport, building, and housing. The number of drones in business has increased from 37 to more than 1,280 in the same period, he added.

“That is why I am happy and proud that we in Denmark — just a few years ago — teamed up across authorities in close dialogue with the industry to come up with a futureproof frame of regulation for drones,” Birk Olesen said.

Optimal conditions for drone testing

One of the many companies using the UAS Denmark International Test Center & Cluster is Denmark-based Sky-Watch A/S. It provides quadcopter and fixed-wing drones for agriculture, emergency response, law-enforcement, mapping and mining, military, and nongovernmental uses.

Drone testing demo in Denmark.

Military personnel observe a Sky-Watch UAS. Photographer: Michael Yde Katballe

Sky-Watch CEO Henrik Bendixen said he has high expectations for future collaboration with UAS Denmark.

“From a business perspective, the international test center gives us opportunities to test our development projects and test technological creations under controlled conditions and in the right forum before we release the products to the market,” he said. “This makes our work much more efficient when considering time and economy, and it ensures an end product that is thoroughly tested and safe.”

More on European Drones and Automation:

Synergy with Danish robot business

Denmark has several clusters intended to assist pre-commercial research and to assist with the commercialization of new technologies.

“We’ll apply to the Danish government to become a cluster for drones in 2018-22, just like the robot technological cluster, RoboCluster,” Larsen said. “This will give the drone area a boost and underline Denmark’s position as a strong drone nation.”

“We have an ambition to become an innovation network for drones because we already have an international network and a good collaboration with drones used by, for instance, the agricultural sector,” he added. “We also have a collaboration with the Danish fire authorities, the Technical University of Denmark, the Danish Technological Institute, and private companies and international collaborators, [as well as the] RoboCluster.”

Both robotics and drone makers could benefit from R&D into enabling technologies, such as sensors.

An elite “Drone Incubator” program to help promising startups at HCA Airport will join SDU’s existing “Innovation on Wings” national program this fall.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about drone testing in Denmark and European robotics, register now for TUS Nordics!