Hyundai acquires $ 1.1 billion worth of robot dog maker Boston Dynamics

Hyundai Motor Group and its chairman have agreed to acquire a majority stake in Boston Dynamics from SoftBank Group. The American robot manufacturer is valued at $ 1.1 billion (around Rs.8,111 billion).

The South Korean automaker group said Friday the purchase would help expand automation in their vehicle factories and develop autonomous cars, drones and robots to evolve from a manufacturer to a broader mobility service provider.

Hyundai Motor said the deal, which includes a new stock offering, would give the company and its boss a combined 80 percent stake in Boston Dynamics, while SoftBank will keep 20 percent.

Hyundai Motor’s newly promoted Chairman Euisun Chung has pledged to reduce reliance on traditional automobile manufacturing. He said robotics would make up 20 percent of the company’s future business, while auto manufacturing would make up 50 percent and urban aviation would make up the remaining 30 percent.

Chung will own a 20 percent stake in Boston Dynamics, while Hyundai Motor and its subsidiaries Hyundai Mobis and Hyundai Glovis will jointly hold a 60 percent stake.

Masayoshi Son, chief executive of Softbank Group, said the partnership with Hyundai Motor would accelerate the robot maker’s path to commercialization.

Boston Dynamics, spun off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992, was bought by Google in 2013 and sold to SoftBank in 2017.

The company’s products include Spot, a canine-like robot that can climb stairs. The company has caught media attention despite struggling to start a commercial business.

Boston Dynamics reported a net loss of $ 103 million (approximately Rs. 759 billion) for the fiscal year ended March 2020, up more than 60 percent year over year.

The transaction is expected to close by June 2021, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.

“Innovation race”
Boston Dynamics’ customers include Ford Motor, which rented two spot robots in July as part of a pilot program.

Last year, Ford Motor also announced that it has partnered with walking robot maker Agility Robotics to develop a proposed fleet of self-driving delivery vans that will drop packages on people’s front doors.

The Boston Dynamics deal is SoftBank’s most recent retirement from operations as Son focuses on investing.

It marks the fading of SoftBank’s robotic ambitions raised by Son. As a result, the Group’s own rump robotics business, which also includes the humanoid robot Pepper, remains increasingly isolated.

For Hyundai Motor, this is the latest in a series of deals under Chung, who pledged to turn the automaker into a mobility provider under threat from electric car maker Tesla Inc and tech companies with ridesharing, self-drive and other technologies.

“Automakers are in a race for innovation. Hyundai is a newcomer to the race, and it seems they want to show they can do it instead of trying to make money from the robotics business,” said mobility advisor Cha Doo won.

Hyundai Motor has developed a portable robot to reduce factory worker fatigue and has piloted programs at its US plants.

In January, Hyundai Motor announced it had partnered with Uber to develop electric air taxis. However, the US company announced it would sell its loss-making flying taxi unit to Joby Aviation, a developer of electric passenger aircraft, this week.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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