Hyundai is officially purchasing a controlling stake in robot maker Boston Dynamics from SoftBank in a deal that values the company at $1.1 billion, the company announced today. The deal has been in the works for a while, according to recent a report from Bloomberg, and marks a major step into consumer robotics for Hyundai. Hyundai is taking approximately an 80 percent stake in the company while its previous owner, Softbank, will retain around 20 percent through an affiliate.
Hyundai says its investment will help its development of service and logistics robots, but that over time it hopes to build more humanoid robots for jobs like “caregiving for patients at hospitals.” Other areas of interest include autonomous driving and smart factories.
Boston Dynamics started as a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company has created robots using DARPA funding, like BigDog, but is best known for the viral fame its robots have found online. Its two main stars have been Atlas, a humanoid bipedal robot that can run and do backflips, and Spot, a smaller quadrupedal “dog” that’s been tested in a variety of scenarios, from sheep herding to assisting health care workers during the pandemic. The company started selling Spot in June 2020 for $74,500, targeting businesses looking for an automated way to patrol and inspect warehouses. Despite the viral fame, Bloomberg notes that Boston Dynamics has not been profitable in recent years, which could change under a new CEO and Hyundai’s guidance.
It’s been a long journey from its start in 1992 to being valued at $1.1 billion. Boston Dynamics spent time under Google, primarily focused on research and development, and more recently had a stint with SoftBank, a deal that former Boston Dynamics CEO Marc Raibert announced with the lofty “mission to push the boundaries of what advanced robots can do and to create useful applications in a smarter and more connected world.”
Hyundai’s own industrial robots have been focused on factories in its automotive comfort zone, including a “car with legs” concept that the company imagined could be used by first responders to travel across difficult terrain.
Correction December 12th, 9:41AM ET : This article originally stated that Boston Dynamics has never been profitable. This is incorrect. The company was profitable prior to its acquisition by Google through sales of software and research contracts.