Denmark - Week 1

After a week in Odense I'm feeling pretty optimistic about my move. I have found a place to live, been put in touch with the right people, toured the local airport, and above all found everyone to be extremely helpful.

Odense has four universities/colleges serving a city of 170,000 people, and therefore students make up a large percentage of the population. Online room listings move quickly, but a few days before arriving I heard back from a German Ph.D. studying bioinformatics who will become my new roommate. However, I've since learned from locals that the facebook group Lejligheder til salg og leje i Odense og omegn is where everyone posts their rooms, so skip the listings sites.

For now I'm staying at an airbnb with a cat for company while my host is in Sweden. Two of her friends have been dropping by to look after the cat, and they have both been helpful. The apartment is about as central as you can get and backs onto a large public square. Unfortunately, since Wednesday there has been an ongoing music event with a stage right outside of my window. The music seems to wrap up at about midnight, so I'm currently missing a few hours of sleep.

A social hack I've borrowed from San Francisco is to go find the local Aussie Rules Footy team, though remarkably in a squad of about 20 I'm one of 2.5 Aussies. Somehow the locals have even erected propper goal posts! Training is conducted in English for the sake of the few of us who wouldn't understand otherwise, but after practice beers are in dansk. Another foreign student here told me he won't go out unless the foreigners outnumber the Danes, otherwise they won't speak English. It is a bit swim or sink, but at least there's an invitation here to use some Danish while being laughed at. Most other attempts would be met with a reply in perfect English.

Once I had decided to move to Denmark, everyone I talked to pushed me towards Odense. Since at least 2013, the country and city have been investing heavily to turn Odense into a robotics hub. University Syd Denmark offers degrees in Mechatronics and Robot Systems, with a focus on drones. It has acquired a large hangar with offices at the local airport for both teaching purposes and use by affiliated companies. There is a one-of-its-kind UAV testing zone where drones can be flown autonomously outside line of sight view. It covers over 1000 square kilometers, extends out over the ocean, and is used by everyone from startups to Boeing and the military. There is also a city funded incubator, Odense Robohub for robotics startups that I will visit next week and hopefully become a part of.

A week earlier I started sending out emails to the listed contact addresses of nice to know people, including some at the Robohub. However the emails went unanswered, and on day one I truly had the sensation of "what have I done", as I found myself in a new city without a clear idea of what needed to be done first. In a bout of minor desperation, I shotgunned the founders of the other companies in the hub and applied to another program meant for non-robotics startups. One company, QuadSAT got back to me and the next day a founder gave me an airport tour. My application also received a reply, which referred me back to the Robohub but this time with an introduction to the correct person. I suppose this is one advantage of operating in a smaller community where everyone knows everyone.

QuadSAT has an enviably solid business case, drones that mimic satellites for calibrating antennae. Satellite connectivity is now so important to ships that contracts are suspended if connectivity is lost. Systems are currently tested by taking a ship out of port and motoring around to see what happens. It almost seems too obvious, but having a drone fly the pattern instead is orders of magnitude cheaper and convenient.

A final tidbit which I thought was just way too cool. Before leaving San Francisco I found that the holes on one of my 3D printed parts were incorrectly placed, but I didn't have time to print a corrected piece. As part of my shotgunning, I found FabLab which I thought was a local maker space. It's actually a college facility with a fairly impressive collection of laser cutters, CNC routers, milling machines and a small army of 3D printers. Because it's funded by public money, it sits in a catch 22 where it should be open to the public, but isn't allowed to compete with local businesses. Therefore it has one open day a week where anyone can just walk in and use the machines. They also didn't seem too concerned about who was paying for the filament so long as your part was within reason. I saw another part being printed that was much larger than mine. So yay, a public prototyping workshop! Go Denmark!

Next week I'll hopefully have a lease agreement which will let me start on administrative matters. I'll also be going down to talk with the Robohub to start my application there. As for the weekend, the footy team has invited me on a trip out to Malmö for a game against the Swedes. The bus trip back is portended to be a bit of a booze cruise.