Hyundai Motor Group and its chairman have agreed to buy an 80% stake in Boston Dynamics from SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T), as the South Korean automaker group seeks to expand factory automation and design autonomous cars, drones and robots.
Hyundai Motor Group said the transaction values Boston Dynamics, the maker of a four-legged dog-like robot, at $1.1 billion, suggesting the automaker group and its chairman offered $880 million for the 80% stake.
The newly promoted Hyundai Motor Group chairman Euisun Chung has pledged to reduce reliance on traditional car manufacturing, saying robotics would account for 20% of the company's future business, with car-making taking up 50%, followed by urban air mobility at 30%.
Softbank Group CEO Masayoshi Son said the partnership with Hyundai would accelerate the robot maker's path to commercialization.
Boston Dynamics, which was spun out from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992, was bought by Google (GOOGL.O) in 2013 and sold to SoftBank in 2017.
The company's products include Spot, a dog-like robot that can climb stairs, and have gained media attention even as it struggled to build a commercial business.
The transaction, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions, is expected to close by June 2021.
Boston Dynamics' clients include Ford Motor Co (F.N), which leased two Spot robots in July as part of a pilot programme.
Last year, Ford Motor also said that it was partnering with walking robot maker Agility Robotics as it designs a planned fleet of self-driving delivery vans that will drop packages at the doorsteps of people’s homes.
The Boston Dynamics deal is the latest pullback by SoftBank from operating businesses as Son focuses on investing.
It also marks the fading of SoftBank's robotics ambitions, which were talked up by Son, and leaves the group's own rump robotics business, which includes humanoid robot Pepper, looking increasingly isolated.
For Hyundai, this is the latest in a flurry of deals under Chung, who pledged to transform the automaker into a mobility provider, amid threats from electric carmaker Tesla and tech firms with ride-sharing, self-driving and other technologies.
"Automakers are in an innovation race. Hyundai is a late-comer to the race, and it seems that they want to showcase that they can do it, rather than trying to generate money from the robot business," said mobility consultant Cha Doo-won.
Hyundai Motor Group has developed a wearable robot to reduce fatigue for factory workers and ran pilot programmes at its U.S. plants.
In January, Hyundai Motor announced it had partnered with Uber to develop electric air taxis, but the U.S. firm said this week it would sell its loss-making flying taxi unit to Joby Aviation, an electric passenger aircraft developer. (1 = 1,087.2200 won)