Robot Aviation is the most impressive unmanned aircraft system (UAS) manufacturer in Norway, a country which is experiencing fantastic growth in the drone market with an expected 90,000 jobs by 2021, according to CEO of UAS Norway Anders Martinsen. The company delivers complete, integrated commercial drone systems including onboard payloads, operating software, and cloud-based planning, as well as processing and reporting. They strive to deliver systems with lower cost and with higher performance than comparable systems in the market today.
Ole Vidar Funnemark Homleid and Per Kristian Haga founded Robot Aviation in Gjøvik in 2008. While the company assembles their planes in Notodden, Telemark, it works primarily in the American market. In February, the founders attended North Dakota’s UAS Industry Day. They also presented the company at 1 Million Cups in Fargo, N.D. One of the founders said they first found interest in North Dakota’s drone industry after meeting Donavon Johnsen, Director of North Dakota Trade Office’s Resource Management Group.
The product that will likely spur collaboration with others is its autopilot computer program, which can be adopted to numerous aircraft systems. The company’s goal is to become the preferred provider of remotely piloted aircraft systems products and services. For the last few years, they have worked towards this goal by releasing a variety of unmanned aircraft systems.
During the annual Norsk Høstfest, the Norwegian heritage festival held in Minot, N.D., Robot Aviation announced its partnership with SkySkopes, one of the top unmanned aircraft systems flight operators in the U.S. Both companies’ U.S. operations are headquartered in Grand Forks, N.D.
It’s no surprise that Robot Aviation came to Grand Forks. The University of North Dakota’s Center for Innovation is home to 25 UAS-related companies, mostly drone startups or international UAS companies working to establish themselves in the emerging American marketplace.
“Looking at USA we searched through the six test sites to see which one that was the most promising. It is no doubt that the Grand Sky project, located at Grand Forks, North Dakota, was the best place for us. In addition to all the other UAS companies there, we found great support from Bruce Gjovik, President at the Center for Innovation. He has been instrumental along with Donavon Johnsen at North Dakota Trade Office, Terry Sando at Grand Forks Region Economic Development, and Bill Paulin at the Center for Innovation. The positive environment of doing business in North Dakota has accelerated our plans significantly,” said Bjorn Forsdal, President of Robot Aviation USA.
According to Gjovig, the Center for Innovation already hosts more UAS entrepreneurs than any other accelerator, incubator, or entrepreneur center in the nation, and they are open to helping more UAS entrepreneurs as Grand Forks becomes a national leader hotspot for this new industry, especially in conjunction with the nation’s first drone business park, Grand Sky.
In August the center was the state’s first winner of the Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition. This was a great opportunity for the center to launch Autonomous Alley, the first UAS/drone accelerator program in the nation. Autonomous Alley will help drone startups accelerate their commercialization journey, thus creating new jobs and opportunities.
A delegation of twelve from North Dakota attended the UAS Nordic Conference in Oslo in November. The future looks bright!
Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his masters degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo, Norway.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 16, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American.
Photo courtesy of Robot Aviation: Drones can be used for a lot of jobs, including inspecting hard-to-reach infrastructure.