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Hyundai to acquire US robotics firm from SoftBank for $1.1bn

Automaker expects Boston Dynamics to help it pivot to smart mobility

Hyundai Motor's acquisition of Boston Dynamics advances its goal of making robotics and urban air mobility major parts of its business. (Source photos by Reuters) 

SEOUL -- Hyundai Motor will acquire a U.S. robotics company from Japanese tech group SoftBank in a deal that helps the South Korean carmaker move closer to its vision of becoming a broader smart mobility company.

South Korea's largest automaker announced Friday that Hyundai Motor Group will acquire an 80% stake in Boston Dynamics from SoftBank for $1.1 billion. The Japanese company currently owns a 100% stake in the company and will retain the remaining 20%.

The deal comes as Hyundai gears up for investments in robotics and urban air mobility, seeking to make half of its revenue from the two new businesses. Hyundai Chairman Chung Euisun last year detailed his vision for a mobility solutions company, saying half of its sales would be automotive while 30% would come from urban air mobility and robotics would account for 20%.

"We are delighted to have Boston Dynamics, a world leader in mobile robots, join the Hyundai team. This transaction will unite capabilities of Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics to spearhead innovation in future mobility. The synergies created by our union offer exciting new pathways for our companies to realize our goal -- providing free and safe movement and higher plane of life experiences for humanity," Chung said. "We will also contribute to the society by enhancing its safety, security, public health amid global trends of aging society and digital transformation."

Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank Group, said, "Boston Dynamics is at the heart of smart robotics. We are thrilled to partner with Hyundai, one of the world's leading global mobility companies, to accelerate the company's path to commercialization. Boston Dynamics has a very bright future and we remain invested in the company's success."

A source in Tokyo said SoftBank's robotics team has struggled to work with Boston Dynamics because it is so secretive.

SoftBank bought Boston Dynamics from Google in 2017. Boston Dynamics was spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1990s before it was sold to Google in 2013.

Boston Dynamics says it focuses on creating robots with advanced mobility, dexterity and intelligence and wants to build robots that can go where people go. Its robot dog Spot Explorer is sold for $74,500.

The deal marks the latest in a stream of exits by SoftBank as Son stockpiles cash to weather the pandemic. The Japanese conglomerate has secured 10 trillion yen ($96 billion) since late March, Son said last month, including its sale of U.K. chip designer Arm to Nvidia.

SoftBank's robotics unit has backed the commercialization of its four-legged robot Spot, including facilitating trials with Japanese companies, according to a person close to SoftBank. But it has struggled to find effective use cases, the person added. "The robot is basically still in trial phase," the person said.

Additional reporting by Wataru Suzuki in Tokyo.

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