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We have often said – whether on The Robot Report Podcast or in various articles – 2020 has been the year of Boston Dynamics. Well, apparently others have noticed, too.
According to Bloomberg, Hyundai Motor is in talks to acquire Boston Dynamics from SoftBank Group. The Bloomberg report, which cites multiple unnamed sources, said the deal could be worth as much as $1 billion. The report also states “the terms have yet to be finalized, and the deal could fall apart.”
The Robot Report has reached out to Boston Dynamics for comment. This story will be updated if new information becomes available.
Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 as a spin-off out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was acquired by Google in 2013 and sold to Softbank in 2017. The RBR50 company has mainly operated as an R&D organization since it was founded. But a new emphasis on commercialization was evident after it was acquired by Softbank.
In April 2019, Boston Dynamics acquired Kinema Systems, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup that used vision sensors and deep learning to help robots manipulate boxes. Kinema’s Pick system was rebranded as the Boston Dynamics Pick System. It was the company’s first commercialized product.
In June 2020, it commercialized its Spot quadruped robot, initially selling it to U.S.-based customers for $74,500. Sales have since been opened to other parts of the world, and Spot has been used for a number of interesting applications, including radiation monitoring at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Boston Dynamics is working on other robots, too, including the Atlas humanoid and Handle, a wheeled, mobile robot designed to move boxes inside a warehouse. Atlas has more of a long-term play, while Handle might be able to capitalize on the booming e-commerce automation market within the next few years.
Hyundai, meanwhile, has historically focused on industrial robots for factories.
If the deal comes to fruition, it would be another in a string of non-core asset sales by Tokyo-based Softbank Group. The Japanese conglomerate has been hit hard by a series of soured bets, including WeWork and Uber Technologies. In September 2020, Softbank sold Arm to NVIDIA for $40 billion.
SoftBank Group is also a holding company for SoftBank Robotics, which produces the Pepper humanoid (formerly from Aldebaran Robotics) and the Whiz commercial floor-cleaning robot.
Michael Perry, vice president of business development at Boston Dynamics, recently joined The Robot Report Podcast to discuss the commercial launch of Spot and its most unique applications. You can listen to that conversation below, but exploring nuclear power plants might be the robot’s best use case yet.
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