SoftBank sells robot-maker Boston Dynamics in $1.1bn deal with Hyundai

SoftBank has made a hefty return on its investment in Boston Dynamics after it agreed to sell the US robotics group to South Korean carmaker Hyundai in a deal valued at $1.1bn.

Under the agreement announced on Friday, Hyundai and its chairman Euisun Chung will hold an 80 per cent stake in the maker of robots including the bipedal Atlas and the four-legged Spot. SoftBank will retain a 20 per cent stake through a subsidiary.

Google bought Boston Dynamics, a pioneer in mechanical robotics that originated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in late 2013, and later sold it to SoftBank in 2017

At the time, SoftBank agreed to buy Boston Dynamics as well as Japanese robotics group Schaft in a deal valued at more than $100m. It will receive $574m from the sale to Hyundai, according to a person familiar with the transaction. 

SoftBank’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics was initially held up by a review conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US. Ultimately, the deal excluded the acquisition of Schaft, which won an advanced robotics challenge sponsored by the US defence technology agency Darpa in late 2013. Google later shut down the Schaft division.

The deal comes as Hyundai has been expanding its footprint in robotics, part of a transition into a broader range of mobility services. Mr Chung has pledged to reduce the company’s reliance on traditional automaking and develop growth drivers including robotics and urban air mobility.

Hyundai plans to reduce the proportion of its revenues from car manufacturing to 50 per cent, with robotics and urban air mobility making up 20 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.

In a statement, the company said it saw growth potential for logistics robots used in warehouses and factories as well as service robots that can be used by the disabled or the elderly.

“This transaction will unite capabilities of Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics to spearhead innovation in future mobility,” Mr Chung said.

This is the first large-scale acquisition since Mr Chung became the company’s chairman in October. It also marks the company’s biggest investment since it put $2bn into a joint venture with Dublin-based auto tech group Aptiv to develop driverless cars.

Hyundai, which had for years been criticised for being slow to pursue new technologies, has sharply increased its investments in new sectors under Mr Chung’s leadership after he promised to reinvent the company as a mobility service provider.

The carmaker last year announced a $35bn investment plan to shift away from traditional car manufacturing and into sectors including electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells and driverless cars over the next five years. In January, Hyundai announced it had teamed up with Uber and would spend $1.5bn on developing flying taxis. 

Shares in the Hyundai fell 1.6 per cent on Friday, while SoftBank’s stock declined 4.7 per cent.

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