In a deal valued at $1.1 billion, Hyundai Motor Group is acquiring a controlling interest in Boston Dynamics from SoftBank Group Corp. Hyundai will hold an 80% stake in the company, with SoftBank retaining 20% through an affiliate.
“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,” said Euisun Chung, Hyundai’s chairman, in a statement.
It is Chung’s first acquisition since taking on Hyundai Motor Group’s top office in October, although his ambitions in the field of robotics is well known. He has already said that he expects robotics to account for 20% of Hyundai’s future business, with urban air mobility accounting for 30%, and traditional auto manufacturing at 50 percent.
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The move lessens Hyundai Motor Group’s reliance on car manufacturing by expanding into robotics, which the company has been suggesting it would do for several years. Hyundai introduced wearable exoskeleton robots named Mex, Vex and Cex at CES in 2017 and 2018, with intention of commercialization.
And while Hyundai Robotics is already established in the robotics field, producing wheeled robots used in factories and warehousing, Boston Dynamics produces mobile robots with advanced mobility, dexterity, intelligence, navigation and perception.
The most famous example is “Spot”, a disturbingly lifelike robotic dog that was used in October by New York Police Department at crime scenes. Boston Dynamics also built “Atlas,” a two-legged robot that can jump and do somersaults.
The South Korean automaker plans to use Boston Dynamics’ expertise to expand its presence the humanoid robot market, where the devices could perform services such as caregiving for hospital patients. But the company also believes that robotic technologies can play a crucial role in autonomous driving solutions.
“Boston Dynamics’ commercial business has grown rapidly as we’ve brought to market the first robot that can automate repetitive and dangerous tasks in workplaces,” said Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics.
“We and Hyundai share a view of the transformational power of mobility and look forward to working together
to accelerate our plans to enable the world with cutting edge automation.”
Born out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1990s, Boston Dynamics was bought by Google in 2013. Four years later, it was sold to SoftBank. Under SoftBank, the company has tried to better commercialize its technology. The transaction is expected to close by June of 2021; however, the deal doesn’t mean that Hyundai is the only automaker focusing on robotics.
In May 2019, Ford Motor Co. announced a partnership with Agility Robotics of Oregon to develop a last-mile logistics solution using Ford’s autonomous vehicles and Agility’s two-legged robot, “Digit.” Ford received its first two robots in January.
Additionally, Toyota built a 6-foot, 10-inch basketball-shooting robot last year that hit five out of eight from behind the three-point arc and made 75% of its free throws — better than NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal’s best year in either category. Honda’s had a long history of producing human-like robots that can dance, kick a soccer ball and even ride a motorcycle.