Hyundai has acquired a controlling interest in US robotics company Boston Dynamics from Softbank for US$880M.
The deal has been in the works since December 2020 when the board of directors at three Hyundai affiliates approved the purchase that would give them a combined 80 per cent of the robot maker. A SoftBank affiliate will keep the remaining 20 per cent.
Boston Dynamics was founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology boffins in 1992. It’s since been owned by Google and Softbank.
Spot went on sale in June of 2020 and, in addition to enlivening dystopian television dramas, has been deployed by across the utilities sector, construction, manufacturing, and the resources industry. Boston Dynamics’ latest robot, Stretch, assists in warehouse facilities and distribution centres.
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However, the company’s products have sometimes proven controversial — as in April 2021 when the New York Police Department faced criticism for deploying a Boston Dynamics robot canine called Digidog, on grounds that it was scary and a privacy invasion. New York’s finest quickly terminated its US$94,000 contract with Boston Dynamics as a result.
Hyundai wants to use Boston Dynamics’ tech in less-confronting roles as part of its plan to become a “Smart Mobility Solutions Provider”.
The auto-maker’s canned statement read:
In the field of robotics, the Group aims to develop advanced technologies that enhance people’s lives and promote safety, thereby realizing the progress for humanity.
Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun said back in October 2019 that the group aims to have 20 per cent of its business in robotics — a goal this acquisition will bolster. Half of Hyundai’s business will remain focused on vehicle manufacturing, with the remaining 30 per cent aimed at “urban air mobility”.
A promotional video (see below) announcing the acquisition showcases Boston Dynamics’ technology serving as medical mobility devices, guide dogs for the visually impaired, medical assistants and dance partners — all applications likely to be better received publicly than Spot’s appearance in Black Mirror or on the mean streets of New York City. ®