A robot from Boston Dynamics walks around the stage at the WSJTECH Live conference in Laguna Beach, California on October 21, 2019.
Mike Blake | Reuters
The units of the Hyundai Motor Group and its chairman have agreed to buy an 80% stake in the robot manufacturer Boston Dynamics from SoftBank Group Corp, the Hyundai Motor Group announced on Friday.
Hyundai said the deal valued the robot company at $ 1.1 billion, suggesting the automaker group was offering $ 880 million for the 80 percent stake.
According to analysts, Hyundai can use robot technology to expand automation in its unionized car factories and develop autonomous vehicles such as self-driving cars, drones and delivery robots.
The new stake comes after Hyundai Motor Group’s recently promoted Chairman Euisun Chung pledged to reduce reliance on traditional automobile manufacturing. Robotics would account for 20% of the company’s future business, with automotive engineering accounting for 50%, followed by urban air mobility for 30%.
Chung will own a 20% stake in Boston Dynamics, while Hyundai Motor and its subsidiaries Hyundai Mobis and Hyundai Glovis together will own a 60% stake.
“The transaction will combine the capabilities of Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics to drive innovation in future mobility,” Chung said in a statement.
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 four-legged canine-like robot that can climb stairs and that has garnered media attention despite having struggled to start a commercial business.
Customers include Ford Motor Co, which rented two spot robots in July as part of a pilot program.
“Hyundai needs to prove that Boston Dynamics can be commercially successful and compete with cheaper Chinese competitors,” said Koh Tae-bong, an analyst at Hi Investment & Securities.
Last year, Ford Motor announced that it had partnered with walking robot maker Agility Robotics to develop a proposed fleet of self-driving delivery vans that will drop packages on people’s doorsteps.
The deal is SoftBank’s most recent retirement from operations as CEO Masayoshi Son focuses on investing.
It also marks the fading of SoftBank’s robotic ambitions, mentioned by Son, and makes the company’s own rump robotics business, which includes the humanoid robot Pepper, look increasingly isolated.
For Hyundai, this is the latest in a string of deals under Chung, who has pledged to turn the automaker into a mobility provider under threat from electric car maker Tesla 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 wearable 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.