March 23, 2016      

There has been a lot of talk about Denmark’s nurturing culture for robotics. In particular, the city of Odense is home to many robotics companies, university programs, and research institutions. Since August 2015, it is also the location of a new Unmanned Aerial Systems Drone Center at Southern Danish University.

American drone expert Brad Beach relocated with his family to Odense to launch the center. He is its director and is working to expand the study programs at Southern Danish University (SDU) to include a sharper focus on drone technology. Not only does Beach bring 23 years of experience in the U.S. Marine Corps, but he is also focusing on advancing drones in the civilian world.

SDU is already known for its highly regarded robotics programs, having spun off companies such as Universal Robots A/S and Mobile Industrial Robotics ApS in Odense. Beach aims to create an atmosphere where roboticists can develop new solutions for society and that supports the growth of drone industry.

The university has offered robotics degrees for some time but it has added a master’s in advanced robotics and drone technology. This track is based on SDU’s current engineering program but includes subjects such as aerodynamics, control theory, and drones. This program will allow participants to directly participate in the development of these new technologies.

“You can, for example, develop robots with artificial intelligence that recognize different people and adapt to their needs — in hospitals, in industry and in private homes,” Beach explained. “Or you can work with drones that inspect buildings, help in agriculture, deliver post, or find people who have been injured in natural disasters.”

Beach and SDU plan to continue developing this program and offer other drone-related courses as early as fall 2016. Unmanned aerial systems will benefit both business and society as a whole, he said.

With the infrastructure and support already in place in Odense and at SDU, it is no surprise that the UAS Drone Center has been established here. According to Beach, the center is striving by 2020 to be recognized by industry, academia, and government as the premier location to go for education, research, innovation, collaboration, and technology transfer — both in Denmark and for all of Europe.

Odense’s local airport, Hans Christian Andersen Airport, hosts Denmark’s national test center for drones, the UAS Test Center, contributing even more to the vast resources and support available for drones in the region.

UAS center has diverse partners
Although the UAS center is officially affiliated with SDU, it includes collaboration with other universities, companies, and diverse stakeholders in Denmark. SDU is working primarily with DTU Space (Denmark’s national space institute), Aalborg University, and Aarhus University.

The UAS Test Center is in Odense, Denmark

In addition, the UAS Center cooperates with Sky-Watch A/S, the country’s major drone manufacturer, and Viacopter, a drone parts supplier. But the interest and participation goes even further than that, including companies as diverse as the radar manufacturer Terma A/S and data-acquisition and environmental monitoring firm Explicit.

The UAS Center is reaching out to other universities in the Nordic region and all of Europe, with the aim of building a strong network of universities focused on drones and drone technologies. The center plans to build one these relationships and advance the aerial drone industry, with efforts currently being made in Norway, Sweden, Finland, France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The center’s stated mission is to educate and inspire future robotics experts, find new approaches to research, and involve the community through collaboration and technology transfer.

Making drones safer and compliant
Many projects are already under way on improving drone safety and control. Greater accountability will help make drones more acceptable to the commercial market, not just in Denmark, but worldwide.

One such project, “Free the Drones,” has received 10 million DKK ($1.5 million) from the Danish Innovation Foundation. Due to safety concerns, drones are currently restricted to only being used in cases where the pilot can see them.

Free the Drones is developing technology that will allow drones to safely navigate beyond the operator’s visual line of sight, allowing the drone to detect and avoid obstacles such as trees and houses while maintaining reliable communication.

This development could expand the numer of potential drone users. For instance, Explicit is using drones to test sea-going vessels for compliance with fuel emission standards. According to a study from Oxford Research, this technology could create 12,000 to 15,000 jobs.

Another project in the works with the Danish Transport and Construction Agency is the creation of number plates for drones similar to license plates for automobiles. The drone center is working with two technologies: a GPS signal that can monitor the drone’s position, plus a direct radio frequency so airborne drones can be scanned and their owners identified.

Currently, with small personal drones available at very little cost, there is no good way for authorities to monitor their usage, making it difficult for law enforcement to enforce regulations. A reliable tracking system would instill more trust in a growing, and economically promising, industry.

SDU has already conducted testing with 10 professional drone operators at the national drone center. It has analyzed the results and shared the information with the Danish Transport and Construction Agency — a big step toward properly regulated use in the public sector.

The days of drones being used only in a military context are long behind us, but there are many aspects to be fine-tuned as commercial markets rapidly expand. Experts such as Beach have identified accountability and regulations as major factors for that growth.

See drone developments in Denmark
Odense will host two industry events this June where you can learn more about this topic and network with professionals from around the globe who are also invested in the development of unmanned systems.

Beach will be speaking at RoboBusiness Europe, taking place at the Odense Congress Center from June 1 to 3, 2016, about the UAS Center and the University of Southern Denmark and their ongoing efforts to grow this evolving technology.

He will discuss technological advancements that are happening in the industry and how they are affecting unmanned systems across air, ground, sea, and space domains.

Coinciding with RoboBusiness Europe, also at the Congress Center, is the Nordic UAS Event, which will focus entirely on drones and include demonstrations from various manufacturers and operators.