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Hyundai Group buys Boston Dynamics as SoftBank faces mass layoffs

By Sara Barker
Thu 1 Jul 2021

Hyundai Group has purchased an 80% stake in Boston Dynamics from SoftBank, but exactly how much Hyundai paid for the robotics innovator has not been revealed.

Boston Dynamics is valued at US$1.1 billion, a valuation that reflects the company’s cutting edge research and development of robots for the industrial, construction, warehousing, and utilities sectors.

Its most recognisable creation is Spot the robotic dog, which has become something of an internet icon for its dexterity, and even its ability to dance. A more humanoid robot called Atlas soon followed. While Spot is designed to look like a dog, Boston Dynamics does create less animal-like robots, such as Stretch and Pick.

Japan-based firm SoftBank purchased Boston Dynamics from Alphabet in 2017, also for an undisclosed amount. Four years later, Boston Dynamics has been sold again, however, SoftBank will retain a 20% stake through one of its affiliates. 

The sale follows considerable unrest within SoftBank. The company's Europe arm announced a swath of job cuts, the full extent of which will be revealed by the end of the year. 

The unrest almost put SoftBank’s own defining achievement under the chopping block. This achievement is a robot called Pepper. Pepper made a name for itself as a ‘social humanoid’ robot built primarily for the consumer market.

330 staff work at SoftBank's Europe HQ in Paris, however, it has not yet been decided how many redundancies will follow. It seems SoftBank was also close to dropping Pepper, but since decided to keep its Pepper and NAO robots business.

“In this difficult time, we want to thank all our employees for their efforts in creating the best humanoids on the planet, and will make the best efforts to ensure fair departure decisions with labour representatives and local consultation bodies in France,” a statement from SoftBank’s management team says.

Reuters speculates that SoftBank’s Europe and Japan management teams had cultural differences that impacted Pepper’s success (or lack thereof), 

So what will Hyundai Group bring to the table? It turns out the company sees its acquisition of Boston Dynamics as ‘another major step toward its strategic transformation into a smart mobility solution provider’.

The company is focusing heavily on robotics, as well as autonomous vehicles, urban air mobility (mass urban transport by air) - and artificial intelligence feeds into all of these industries.

Last year Hyundai and Uber announced plans to build Uber Air Taxis as part of the Uber Elevate initiative. The first of these vehicles will be the Hyundai S-A1, a personal air vehicle that will operate aerial rideshares. It could fly at up to 290 kilometres per hour at an altitude of between 300-600 metres above ground, and cover trips of up 100 kilometres.

As for Boston Dynamics, Hyundai Group wants to create an entire robotics value chain covering everything from the manufacture of robot components to smart logistics.

“In the field of robotics, the Group aims to develop advanced technologies that enhance people's lives and promote safety, thereby realising progress for humanity.” 

Hyundai Robotics already manufacturers a range of robots, automation systems and smart factory equipment, so it makes sense that Hyundai sees good bones in Boston Dynamics.

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