PALO ALTO, U.S./TOKYO -- SoftBank Group plans to invest up to several hundreds of millions of dollars in a hardware development project managed by Andy Rubin, an American programmer known for his work as a developer of the Android operating system for smartphones, The Nikkei has learned.
SoftBank is looking to accelerate development of post-smartphone age products such as those incorporating artificial intelligence and robotics.
A former senior vice president of Google, Rubin is a well-known figure in the information technology industry. In 2003, he launched a venture business that created the precursor of the Android system.
Rubin joined Google when it acquired his business in 2005. He is credited with getting Android on smartphones used by more than one billion people around the world.
Rubin then moved to Google's robot development division. He quit the company in 2014 and founded a fund that supports hardware-related startups. His goal is to create an AI-based system that shortens the time needed to put hardware into commercial use.
SoftBank Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son is eager to develop cutting-edge AI-equipped robots.
The Japanese telecom and internet company acquired Aldebaran Robotics in 2012, but has since seen many engineers quit the French company.
SoftBank is the creator of Pepper, a humanoid robot that can be seen around Japan, such as at the entrance to electronics shops. But that project has been mired in the red, and development of the next-generation model has been delayed.
In addition to speeding up robot development, Son hopes to capitalize on Rubin's name recognition to enhance the SoftBank brand overseas and attract engineers.
Rubin and Son have been acquainted for many years.
SoftBank and Google once competed to acquire Schaft, a robot development venture started at the University of Tokyo. Rubin led Google's effort and was successful in purchasing the company.