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Hyundai reportedly in talks to buy SoftBank-owned Boston Dynamics

Brian Heater and Kirsten Korosec
·2-min read

Boston Dynamics could be set to change hands once again, according to a new report from Bloomberg that cited “people familiar with the matter.”

The deal would make Korean automaker Hyundai the third company in seven years to own the robotics firm, following sales to Google and SoftBank Group. Boston Dynamics is well known inside and out the industry for making some of the most advanced robotics systems on the planet, including BigDog and the humanoid Atlas.

A Hyundai spokesperson said the company's policy is not to comment on market speculations, adding that "As a global business entity, Hyundai Motor is continuously exploring various investment and partnership opportunities.

Softbank and Boston Dynamics have not responded to requests for comment.

Since becoming a part of SoftBank in 2017, however, Boston Dynamics has aggressively pushed to commercialize its products after a quarter century of being focused on military and research robotics. Its Spot robot went up for sale last year and has appeared in a wide range of different applications. Recent notable appearances include Ukraine’s Chernobyl, the NYPD and telemedicine.

The company has also been working to offer its wheeled Handle robot for warehouse fulfillment applications, which will no doubt hold some interest for potential purchasers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, attempting to scale these kinds of advanced — and pricey — technologies is a difficult proposition and requires owners with patience and deep pockets. SoftBank, notably, has had some struggles this year, including bad bets like WeWork.

While SoftBank has had its hand in robotics — including, most notably Pepper-maker Aldebaran Robotics — Hyundai’s vision has been much more in line with Boston Dynamics’ work. Take the recent example of its sci-fi-style Ultimate Mobility Vehicles, which combine traditional transport with transforming robotic technologies.

Hyundai has shown increasing interest in automated vehicle technology and robotics over the past year. Hyundai formed a joint venture with autonomous driving technology company Aptiv, with both parties taking a 50% ownership stake in the new company now known as Motional. The goal of the new venture will be to develop Level 4 and Level 5 production-ready self-driving systems intended for commercialization, with the goal of making those available to robotaxi and fleet operators, as well as other auto makers, by 2022.

The combined investment in the joint venture from both companies totaled $4 billion in aggregate value (including the value of combined engineering services, R&D and IP) initially, according to Aptiv and Hyundai, and testing for their fully autonomous systems will begin in 2020 in pursuit of that 2022 commercialization target.

Hyundai isn't done spending money on autonomous vehicle technology. In October 2019, the automaker committed to investing 41 trillion South Korean won ($35 billion) into "future mobility technologies" by the year 2025. While a bulk of those funds will go toward electrifying its portfolio, Hyundai is expressly interested in autonomous vehicles and other future mobility technologies.