Hyundai Motor Group units and its chairman have agreed to buy an 80 percent stake in robot maker Boston Dynamics from SoftBank Group for around 800 billion to 900 billion won ($736 million-$828 million), Reuters reported.
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 chairman Euisun Chung pledged to cut reliance on traditional car manufacturing, saying robotics will account for 20 percent of the company’s future business, with car-making taking up 50 percent, followed by urban air mobility at 30 percent.
Chung will own a 20 percent stake in Boston Dynamics, while Hyundai Motor and its affiliates, Hyundai Mobis and Hyundai Glovis, will hold a combined 60 percent stake.
“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,” Koh Tae-bong, an analyst at Hi Investment & Securities.
“But Hyundai needs to prove that Boston Dynamics can be commercially successful and is capable of competing with cheaper Chinese rivals,” he said.
The company’s products include Spot, a four-legged dog-like robot that can climb stairs, and have gained media attention even as it 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.
Clients of Boston Dynamics include Ford Motor, which leased two Spot robots in July as part of a pilot program.
Last year, Ford Motor said that it was partnering with walking robots maker Agility Robotics as it designs a planned fleet of self-driving delivery vans that will drop packages at the doorsteps of people’s homes.
Hyundai Motor Group is expected to announce the acquisition later on Friday, after getting approval from boards at each of the three units.
The deal is the latest pullback by SoftBank from operating businesses as CEO Masayoshi Son focuses on investing.
It also marks the fading of SoftBank’s robotics ambitions, which were talked up by Son, and leaves the group’s own rump robotics business, which includes humanoid robot Pepper, looking increasingly isolated.
For Hyundai, this is the latest in a flurry of deals under Chung, who pledged to transform the automaker into a mobility provider, amid threats from electric carmaker Tesla and tech firms with ride-sharing, self-driving and other technologies.
“Automakers are in an innovation race. Hyundai is a late-comer 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,” said mobility consultant Cha Doo-won.
Hyundai Motor has developed a wearable robot to reduce fatigue for factory workers and ran pilot programs at its U.S. plants.
In January, Hyundai Motor announced it had partnered with Uber to develop electric air taxis, but the U.S. firm said earlier this week it would sell its loss-making flying taxi unit to Joby Aviation, an electric passenger aircraft developer.