The Gizmo Guy - March 2018

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Kåre Dyvekaer’s creative and efficient use of technology establishes Denmark’s Sommerland Sjaelland as a hive of innovation

by Keith Miller

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY SOMMERLAND SJAELLAND

Creativity loves constraints, the old saying goes. Kåre Dyvekaer didn’t coin that phrase, but he definitely lives by it. 

Dyvekaer is the owner of Sommerland Sjaelland (www.sommerlandsj.dk), a small amusement park in Nørre Asmindrup, Denmark, located about 88 kilometers northwest of Copenhagen. He is capitalizing on his own inventiveness and fascination with technology to create fun and intriguing experiences for his guests, despite having nowhere near the budget or other resources of larger attractions.

Sommerland Sjaelland is a charming 20-hectare amusement park favoring families with children up to 12 years old. Situated on a peninsula, the park is segmented into a half-dozen themed sections, including a water park. Though it has two small coasters, including a 365-meter-long Pinfari Zyklon, most of the park’s rides are geared to families with young kids.

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As a family-friendly amusement park, Sommerland Sjaelland offers numerous themed sections, including a water park and playgrounds, across its 20 hectacres.

Dyvekaer was still quite young when his parents, Filip and Inger, started the park in 1985, so his first job at Sjaelland was overseeing a rowboats ride; he later served as team leader for the water park. He then left the park in the late 1980s to earn a college education and start a career of his own. He went to business school and then worked in a two-year training program at Hewlett-Packard, where his inquisitive mind began to blossom with the possibilities offered by new technologies.

“I was always into the development of new things, and they found out I was good at that,” he says. “I like that about the American culture—it’s a lot of work, but if you do it well, you get rewarded and are successful. I brought this [attitude] back to the park in the mid-1990s and [after several years] became CEO.”

By 2006, Dyvekaer was pondering his future and considering whether he wanted to pursue a career away from Sommerland Sjaelland. Around that same time, his parents decided they wanted to sell the park, so he helped them put together a proposal to show investors. But then he was hit with the idea of possibly buying the park himself. 

“I took that proposal to the banker and showed him the park’s potential and that it didn’t have any debts,” he recalls. “In 2007, I borrowed money from the bank to buy the park from my parents. I didn’t want them to just hand it over to me because I didn’t want to feel I was running the park at a risk to their [investment]. I’d rather do it at my own risk.”

Dyvekaer now owned the park free and clear along with his wife, Mette, who handles many of the park’s affairs behind the scenes.

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Seeing smartphones as "remote controls," Dyvekaer developed ways to play with interactive elements in the park. Through the app, guests can initiate special effects, like setting off smoke on a train.

Captivated by Technology

Now that he not only owned the park but was responsible for operating it, Dyvekaer began thinking about some new things he could do to attract and intrigue guests. Still strongly interested in technology, he recalls an earlier experience with his wife that inspired ideas for launching a variety of fun interactive features at Sommerland Sjaelland:

“One time, years ago when cell phones were new, my wife and I were at a beach, and I looked at people who had their phones on the beach. I was a little amazed and wondered why. Didn’t they want a break from them? And then I thought that if they want to bring their phones on the beach, they will probably want to bring them everywhere in the future.”

Dyvekaer says he looked at smartphones as “a remote control.” A few years ago, he started figuring out ways to allow guests to use their phones to initiate interactive special effects in the park. “The first thing we built was a water cannon, and you could use your phone as a remote control and turn it left and right and up and down,” he explains. “I had things where you could send a text message and set something off—smoke on the train, feeding the animals, et cetera. Now it’s on an app, and you don’t have to send a text.” 

Other interactive features triggered by smartphone-wielding guests include turning on water sprays, firing pirate ship cannons, igniting a volcano, and activating a goat feeder. Guests can activate these elements from anywhere in the world and watch them come to life via a park webcam.

Though he says no one has really influenced him in coming up with the zany creations he uses in the park, Dyvekaer notes, “My dad isn’t into technical stuff at all, but he’s inspired me to come up with the crazy ideas and then find people who can help me do it. So after I come up with the ideas, I ask other people what they think about it, and I make notes. Then I [explore], often on the internet, who is available and specializes in certain things I need done.” 

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Sommerland Sjaelland owner Kåre Dyvekaer created an interactive go-kart track called "SamyKart" where users can affect other drivers on the track, using color-coded buttons on the steering wheel.

Make It Happen in a Small Park

Trying to integrate technology into a facility in a creative fashion is quite an undertaking for a small family-owned park considering the limited financial resources available, but Dyvekaer is determined: “It is definitely a challenge. I first look at what’s currently on the market, and that’s always a problem because you have something that will take you only so far, and there is always something missing. So I try to fill in the missing links by taking what is standard and then doing customized work to make it all fit in by buying a platform or having something developed.” 

This is what happened with the latest innovation at Sommerland Sjaelland, a go-kart track called “SamyKart” (see “SamyKart Brings ‘Mario Kart’-Style Interactive Racing to Denmark” in the September 2017 Funworld), but only after a defining moment for Dyvekaer. “My own internal marketing guys and I met with an outside marketing bureau,” he recalls, “and one of them said he didn’t think I was very ambitious! So I sat and wrote down some ideas—the craziest I could come up with! Then I presented them, and their jaws dropped.”

One of his ideas was to create an interactive go-kart track like no other. He calls it “Mario Kart”-like, referring to the popular video game from Nintendo. With “SamyKart,” the park could use little in the way of off-the-shelf products. From the wiring in the go-karts to the drainage on the track, almost everything had to be custom made. “I have an employee who is studying to be a robotic engineer,” Dyvekaer reveals, “and he’s really bright and worked with me on it.”

“SamyKart” offers several interactive elements that allow go-kart drivers to affect other drivers on the track, using color-coded buttons on the steering wheel. They can slow down other drivers, douse them with water, and even take shortcuts. To get regulatory permission to use water on the track, the park had to create a custom drain design to ensure the surface is always as dry as possible. 

“But the hardest part is, of course, to have a radio Wi-Fi signal onboard the go-karts.” says Dyvekaer. “From the start, we simultaneously worked on two systems, and we chose a simple radio system using remote controllers because we had the best results with them.” The combined cost of the track, go-karts, and “SamyKart” innovation was about i450,000. 

Establish an Identity

Beyond the technology Sommerland Sjaelland has incorporated into its attractions, the park has worked to solidify its identity since Dyvekaer took ownership. “Until five years ago, we were trying to be something for everybody,” he reveals. “We tried to have bigger rides and small rides. Now we are being more true to ourselves, using food from local producers, having a lot of green areas, and just being different.” 

Dyvekaer makes reference to five years ago because that’s when his park created a new strategy and took a hard look at its core technology: “We actually put it in writing. Before, the technology had just sort of been my hobby, but now it’s for the business. However, it’s still my personal interest, and I get a big kick out of solving technological problems.”

The park now focuses on families with young kids, and those are the guests to whom attractions are now geared. Rides like “SamyKart” appeal to teens, but they are not the park’s target group. Sommerland Sjaelland’s sections include Amazone, Mini Playland, Silver City, and The Farm. There’s also a water park called Blue Lagoon, a candy workshop, and a fishing lake. Blue Lagoon features six large slides and a play structure offering four slides, including two small chutes for little kids. 

Interactive Gizmos Everywhere

In addition to its “SamyKart” interactive go-kart track, as well as the water sprays and exploding volcanoes guests can activate, Sommerland Sjaelland features a plethora of other smartphone-triggered features:

The Amazone area offers a giant spitting anaconda, a motor fire from a broken-down Jeep, and geyser blasts. 

The Western zone provides the ability to produce steam, water, and a whistle blast from a train.

Blue Lagoon water park features a water cannon that can be turned 360 degrees and fired from anywhere in the world via an app and watched on webcam. 

Farm Land allows both guests and off-site virtual visitors to feed goats. Corn is dropped into a cup, and on-site guests can go inside the enclosure for a more up-close experience.

The cool climate in Denmark limits the park’s operating calendar, as it doesn’t open until mid-May and closes in mid-September. So to make the most of this rather short season, it offers something most small parks don’t—on-site overnight accommodations with cabins, efficiency huts, and a campground. “We have a big summer-house area and a lot of people coming to stay in the area for the season,” says Dyvekaer, “and we are going to be expanding that area.” 

He says other plans for 2018 include adding more TeleRemote-controlled cannons to the water park (TeleRemote is Dyvekaer’s term for all the interactive features in the park that can be initiated by pressing a button or from a cell phone) and ride enhancements. 

Finally, a new device called the “Pacifier Cannon” will allow visitors to go to an app on their phones and press a button to fire rubber-tipped projectiles at a large target. The park will also roll out SamyKart 2.0, where guests will be able to create a profile that tracks their visits and earn additional interactive activations on the go-kart ride. In the near future, the park will link guest purchases to additional features and effects they can trigger in the park—the more they spend, the more features they can activate.

As to where Dyvekaer’s fascination with technology will go next, he has started an accompanying business called Amusetech that will allow other parks and attractions to incorporate many of his systems into their own facilities. “My customers would be water parks and zoos and maybe museums,” he observes. “I’m not protective about what I’m developing.” As for Sommerland Sjaelland, he hopes his innovations will help boost the park’s attendance from the current 180,000 to 250,000 annually, while still maintaining that personal touch.

“We’re trying to make it an advantage to be small,” Dyvekaer says. “We don’t even make you deal with an [automated menu] when you call us—you actually speak to someone!”

A Walk Around Sommerland Sjaelland

One of Sommerland Sjaelland’s most popular sections is the Blue Lagoon water park. Here’s a tour of what else the park has to offer:

Space: This is the new name for the area with the park’s biggest attractions, including a looping coaster, spinning rides, an astronaut training course, and a high ropes course. 

Western: A themed section with a mix of Old West buildings, totem poles, and a gold mine

Go-Karts: The park has three tracks: a micro track for kids 2-4 years old, a small “hot kart” area for kids 47 to 59 inches tall with 260cc go-karts, and the “SamyKart” track with four to five single-rider karts and two to three double-rider karts.

Mini Legeland: A section with merry-go-rounds, a small roller coaster, a Rockin’ Tug, a small train, and a track for electric cars on rail

Amazone: A themed area featuring a big 12-person raft that slowly takes guests along a stream filled with surprises. They eventually come to the native land, and beyond that, a “lost world” with volcanoes and a three-headed monster.

Farm Land (also called Filips’ Ranch): A petting zoo area with goats, sheep, horses, pigs, etc.

Accommodations on Property

Sommerland Sjaelland offers 19 family cabins for overnight guests, as well as six “hobbit huts.” The cabins have full services, including electricity, water, a shower, a toilet, a TV, and six beds. The “hobbit huts” are very simple and include only electricity for lighting. They provide a master bed for adults and two kids’ beds. The park also has a campground with around 50 sites. Sommerland Sjaelland hopes to eventually have 250 cabins and a greatly expanded campground area.