Founding of Universal Robots, the flagship company of the Odense Robotics Center
Universal Robots is leading a small Danish town’s rise to the top of the world’s robotics scene, reaching the milestone of 1,000 employees supporting the company’s collaborative robot (cobot) operation.
Since Universal Robots was founded in 2005, a group of robots has emerged in Denmark with the city of Odense at the centre. There are now more than 400 Danish robotics companies with total revenues of more than $2.79 billion. There are over 130 of these companies in Odense.
So how has Odense, with a population of around 200,000, emerged as a global robotics hub for innovation, talent, and excellence?
Odense’s historical industry was sea transportation, with Maersk’s container ships being built in the city’s shipyard for most of the 1920s.The tenth century. However, by 2009, global economic distress led Maersk to shut down the yard, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of workers.
Fortunately, in the 1980s, due to the need for robotics solutions in the shipyard, Maersk began investing in new initiatives in close collaboration with the local university, the University of Southern Denmark (SDU).
From the outset, the developing robotics sector has relied on the ambition and talent of innovative thinkers, largely emanating from SDU.
SDU has been a primary focus of Maersk’s continued financial support and three decades later, the institution is among the world’s leading universities in the field of robotics.
Universal Robots itself was formed from SDU, which was founded by three researchers from the university; Its current president, Kim Povlsen, is also an alumnus of SDU. There is a symbiotic relationship between SDU and the Odense robotics group, where talent from the university is encouraged to pursue commercial innovation alongside academia and spin-off companies – with the assurance that their university positions will still exist should they return.
SDU’s growing reputation globally now sees it attract the best undergraduate, postgraduate and academic talent from around the world, which in turn fosters innovation and excellence at Odense around the ideas and services offered by the group companies.
The emerging robotics center would not have succeeded so quickly without the foundation created by the Odense Kommune (Municipal Government) and the SDU.
The growth of Odense Group has been possible as a result of close cooperation and partnerships. This collaboration involves government, businesses and universities, including partnerships between institutions across Denmark: Aalborg University, Aarhus University, University of Copenhagen, Kolding School of Design, Technical University of Denmark, Lillebelt University College, University of Southern Denmark and Danish Institute of Technology.
Now, the municipality has a plan for 2030 to support the robotics sector and maintain Odense’s position as a world leader. Robotics is a political priority for the region, and as a result, startups and expansion are supported accordingly.
Collaboration and innovation
What has driven the Danish robotics group’s growth and success is how its companies have worked together rather than competing.
The best example of this is the Universal Robots ecosystem. The company makes robotic arms of various sizes, but independent companies within its ecosystem produce the components, kits, and solutions required for robots to perform a wide variety of industrial tasks—from welding to rigs. Some of these companies are also based in Odense and benefit from shared bot intelligence within the city.
Danish robotics companies are expected to have 23,000 employees by 2025, with new projects starting every year.
Odense’s robotics story is being served globally as a model for cross-sector collaboration and high-tech renewal and an example for other cities hoping to build an exciting new economy.
the active parties
Highlight University of Southern Denmark (SDU)
The origins of the Robotics Center in Odense can be traced back to the Maersk Shipyard that was based there. In the 1980s, the Odense Steel shipyard used large industrial welding robots to build ships for its parent company, Maersk.
This growing need for robotics solutions has meant that Maersk has invested in robotics research at the local university, SDU, to support the growth of the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute in particular. The shipyard closed in 2009 due to the global financial crisis, but the institute has become an internationally recognized division that has maintained its leading position in robotics for more than three decades and has produced a range of robotics in Odense and Denmark with over 400 robots. companies nationwide.
Among these companies is Universal Robots, which was founded in 2005 by three young researchers from the university, Esben Østergaard, Kasper Støy and Kristian Kassow. Their goal was to make robot technology more accessible to small and medium-sized businesses by releasing a lightweight robot – Kobot – that was easier than traditional industrial robots to install and program. UR’s first product, UR5 was launched in 2008, revolutionizing the industrial robotics market, allowing robots and humans to collaborate.
There remains a symbiotic relationship between SDU and Odense’s robotics group of companies, with talent from the university encouraged to pursue commercial innovation alongside academia and spin-offs – with the assurance that their university positions will still exist should they return. The current president of Universal Robots, Kim Povlsen, is also an alumnus of SDU.
SDU’s growing reputation globally now sees it attract the best undergraduate, postgraduate and academic talent from around the world, which in turn fosters innovation and excellence at Odense in the ideas and services delivered by the group companies.
QUOTE: Henrik Bindslev, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Southern Denmark
“Odense’s success as a center for robotics on the world stage is really a testament to the 40 years of robotics research and development that began at SDU in the 1980s. We’ve seen exponential growth in robotics startups that have sprung directly out of the university – to put this in perspective, in 2004 Odense had nearly zero robotics companies, compared to 136 companies formed by 2021 Born out of collaboration, fusion – a ready environment for engineers, students, researchers and developers at SDU and at manufacturers The constant curiosity of these genius people, dedicated to delivering innovations Robotics of the Future, has testified not only to Universal Robots but also to an ongoing and fruitful ecosystem that continues to bring new ideas and products to the robotics industry.”
Highlight Odense city
At Odense, the key elements of the burgeoning robotics industry come together: economy, expertise, and capability. As the world’s leading robotics hub with an excellent start-up environment, a huge national collection, academic centers, and advanced educational possibilities including Odinskolen – a primary school that aims to be the world’s best robotics school for children – the city is one of the world’s best locations for activities Robotics and Automation, currently home to more than 130 companies in this fast-growing industry. As of 2022, over $1 billion USD has been invested in Odense botnet companies. The collaboration between local government (city of Odense), knowledge institutions and industry representatives makes for a rare and innovative ecosystem matched by few other cities in the world.
Quote: Peter Rahbæk Juel, Mayor of Odense
“Developing a world-class robotics environment here in Odense has been a top priority for the City Council for years, and it shows up in everything; from the way we teach our children about technology to innovating and improving our public sector services to funding ambitious and innovative robotics and drone startups.” and automation.”
Visitors, entrepreneurs, and investors know Odense is a place for collaborative effort, a place for local government support, and a place where members of our local ecosystem look to each other for knowledge and experience. Not only that, we build companies and products that make a real difference on a global scale. “
Highlight: Odense Robotics
Odense Robotics is Denmark’s national robotics and drone group, playing a critical role in accelerating innovation and driving sustainable development among robotics, automation and drone companies across Denmark.
Organized as a designed ecosystem with a national setting with regional hubs across the country, it brings together 418 robotics, automation and drone companies across the country employing around 10,700 people in Denmark and 3,800 abroad. The number of employees working for companies within the Odense Robotics group is expected to reach 23,000 by 2025, with new projects starting each year.
The group focuses on connecting companies and people, research and education, and developing policies and group brands, all with the aim of strengthening the Danish robotics and automation community.
quotes: Mikkel Kristoffersen, CEO, Odense bots
“Having a vision on your own is one thing – but bringing together multiple people with a similar vision is even more powerful. This is what the Odense Robotics group was created to do in the field of robotics, creating and sustaining communities that delivered on a much larger scale than initially imagined. Denmark’s thriving robotics industry and the huge number of employees in this growing field is evidence of this, but it also shows that as a country and an economy, we are driven to stand on the shoulders of our past successes and are excited to evolve to support this community in the future.”
The highlight is Universal Robots
The robotics companies in the group meet frequently to exchange ideas and work closely with the university and the city.
QUOTE: Kim Povlsen, president of Universal Robots, the group’s largest robotics company
“We are a global company now, but we are proud of our roots and maintain an active relationship with our local partners. We work with the city to advance the digital, technical and robotic skills required for a strong workforce of the future, provide student jobs for talented university students and benefit from cutting-edge expertise in higher education institutions in Denmark” .
“Our kubots are produced in Odense and we are building a brand new headquarters here in the city. The city and the university have helped create an attractive environment for international talent and we are very excited about the future of this center.”
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