Hyundai Motor agreed to buy a controlling stake in Boston Dynamics in a deal that values the mobile robot firm at $1.1 billion.
Hyundai, along with some associated companies and chairman Euisun Chung, will acquire an 80 per cent interest in the US robotics company from SoftBank Group, leaving the Japanese firm with a 20 per cent share, the companies said in a statement Friday.
South Korean conglomerate Hyundai has been beefing up its research in robotics as it expands further into electric and autonomous vehicles. Carmaker Hyundai plans to spend over $55bn in the next five years in these areas to become one of the world’s leading auto manufacturers. The broader empire is also exploring practical uses for industrial robots.
Other Hyundai entities that will participate include car-parts maker Hyundai Mobis and Hyundai Glovis, which provides international and domestic logistics services.
A sale of Boston Dynamics would mark another twist in the trajectory of a company that spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1990s and operated independently until Google bought it in 2013. It was sold again in 2017, that time to SoftBank.
At times, Boston Dynamics has functioned more like a research organisation than a business, churning out machines that are technologically advanced but unprofitable. That includes Spot, a dog-like robot. Videos of its creations regularly rack up millions of views on YouTube; however, the company has said it isn’t currently generating a profit.
Within SoftBank, Boston Dynamics formed part of a disparate collection of robotics ventures in the technology firm’s portfolio, including developers of robots for warehouses, restaurants, and other industrial applications.
Its staff tripled to 300 people and it moved into new headquarters in a refurbished former postal building in Massachusetts at a cost of $20 million, a person familiar with the matter said earlier this year.
Late last year, SoftBank made a new push to steer the robot maker towards profitability, accelerating an effort that had started under Google.
Hyundai by contrast makes highly practical industrial robots intended for factory use. The group has been developing robotics such as exoskeleton suits that help ease fatigue and prevent injury for factory workers. It’s also working on robots with artificial intelligence that can provide assistance at hotels and in other service sectors.
Mr Chung, who became the group’s chairman in October, has been transforming the conglomerate to introduce more EV line-ups and plans to enter the aerial vehicle market in 2028.
The group is building an innovation centre in Singapore where Hyundai will work on developing artificial intelligence, big data and other technologies to enhance its manufacturing processes, fine tuning the “brains” behind the smarter and more environmentally friendly cars of tomorrow.