SEOUL • Hyundai Motor units and its chairman have agreed to buy an 80 per cent stake in robot-maker Boston Dynamics from SoftBank Group for around 800 billion won to 900 billion won (S$1.1 billion), a person familiar with the matter told Reuters yesterday.
Hyundai can leverage the robot technology to expand automation at its unionised car factories, as well as design autonomous vehicles like self-driving cars, drones and delivery robots, analysts said.
The move comes after newly promoted chairman Chung Eui-sun pledged to reduce reliance on traditional car manufacturing, saying robotics will account for 20 per cent of the company’s future business, with carmaking taking up 50 per cent, followed by urban air mobility at 30 per cent.
Mr Chung will own a 20 per cent stake in Boston Dynamics, while Hyundai Motor and its affiliates, Hyundai Mobis and Hyundai Glovis, will hold a 60 per cent stake, two people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential. One of the sources confirmed the value of the deal.
Hyundai Motor and SoftBank declined to comment.
“The acquisition would help Hyundai offer a seamless approach to goods delivery with the help of delivery robots and driverless vehicles such as cars and planes,” said Mr Koh Tae-bong, an analyst at Hi Investment and Securities.
“But Hyundai needs to prove that Boston Dynamics can be commercially successful and is capable of competing with cheaper Chinese rivals,” he added.
Boston Dynamics’ products, which include Spot, a four-legged dog-like robot that can climb stairs, have gained media attention even as the firm has struggled to build a commercial business.
Boston Dynamics, which was spun out from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992, was bought by Google in 2013 and sold to SoftBank in 2017.
Its clients include Ford Motor, which leased two Spot robots in July as part of a pilot programme.
Last year, Ford said it was partnering Agility Robotics, a maker of walking robots, as it designs a planned fleet of self-driving delivery vans that will drop packages at the doorsteps of people’s homes.
Hyundai Motor was expected to announce the acquisition yesterday, after getting approval from the boards at each of the three units, two other people have said.
The deal is the latest pullback by SoftBank from operating businesses as chief executive Masayoshi Son focuses on investing.
It also marks the fading of SoftBank’s robotics ambitions, which were talked up by Mr Son, and leaves the group’s robotics business looking increasingly isolated.
For Hyundai, this is the latest in a flurry of deals under Mr Chung, who pledged to transform the carmaker into a mobility provider, amid threats from Tesla and tech firms with ride-sharing, self-driving and other technologies.
Mobility consultant Cha Doo-won said: “Carmakers are in an innovation race. Hyundai is a latecomer to the race, and it seems that they want to showcase that they can do it, rather than trying to generate money from the robots business.”
Hyundai Motor has developed a wearable robot to reduce fatigue for factory workers and ran pilot programmes at its US plants.
In January, it announced it had partnered Uber to develop electric air taxis, but the US firm said earlier this week that it would sell its loss-making flying taxi unit to Joby Aviation.