SoftBank is considering selling robotics company Boston Dynamics to Hyundai, Bloomberg reported.
The deal would make Korean automaker Hyundai the third company in seven years to own the robotics firm, following sales to Google and SoftBank Group. Boston Dynamics is well known inside and out the industry for making some of the most advanced robotics systems on the planet, including BigDog and the humanoid Atlas.
A Hyundai spokesperson said the company’s policy is not to comment on market speculations, adding that “As a global business entity, Hyundai Motor is continuously exploring various investment and partnership opportunities.
Softbank and Boston Dynamics have not responded to requests for comment.
Boston Dynamics is an American engineering and robotics design company founded in 1992 as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts, Boston Dynamics is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group.
Boston Dynamics is best known for the development of a series of dynamic highly-mobile robots, including BigDog, Spot, Atlas, and Handle. Since 2019, Spot has been made commercially available, making it the first commercially available robot from Boston Dynamics, with the company stating its intent to commercialize other robots as well, including Handle.
The company was founded by Marc Raibert, who spun the company off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992. Early in the company's history, it worked with the American Systems Corporation under a contract from the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD) to replace naval training videos for aircraft launch operations with interactive 3D computer simulations featuring characters made with DI-Guy, software for realistic human simulation. Eventually the company started making physical robots—for example, BigDog was a quadruped robot designed for the U.S. military with funding from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
While SoftBank has had its hand in robotics — including, most notably Pepper-maker Aldebaran Robotics — Hyundai’s vision has been much more in line with Boston Dynamics’ work. Take the recent example of its sci-fi-style Ultimate Mobility Vehicles, which combine traditional transport with transforming robotic technologies.
Hyundai has shown increasing interest in automated vehicle technology and robotics over the past year. Hyundai formed a joint venture with autonomous driving technology company Aptiv, with both parties taking a 50% ownership stake in the new company now known as Motional. The goal of the new venture will be to develop Level 4 and Level 5 production-ready self-driving systems intended for commercialization, with the goal of making those available to robotaxi and fleet operators, as well as other auto makers, by 2022.
The combined investment in the joint venture from both companies totaled $4 billion in aggregate value (including the value of combined engineering services, R&D and IP) initially, according to Aptiv and Hyundai, and testing for their fully autonomous systems will begin in 2020 in pursuit of that 2022 commercialization target.
Hyundai isn’t done spending money on autonomous vehicle technology. In October 2019, the automaker committed to investing 41 trillion South Korean won ($35 billion) into “future mobility technologies” by the year 2025. While a bulk of those funds will go toward electrifying its portfolio, Hyundai is expressly interested in autonomous vehicles and other future mobility technologies.