What to do with Boston Dynamics? That’s seemingly the question a few companies have been unable to answer because for the third time in seven years the robotics research company has a new owner as The Korea Economic Daily is reporting that Hyundai Motors has spent almost $US1 ($1.4) billion dollars to buy the R&D company from SoftBank Group.
Boston Dynamics is world renown for developing some of the most advanced and capable robots the industry has ever seen, but outside of research applications, such as providing humanoid bots for the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals back in 2015, its owners haven’t done much to parlay the company’s creations into more than just unsettling hardware demos.
The company was first acquired by Google back in 2013 who, just four years later, sold it to the Japanese SoftBank Group in 2017 whose robotics division is known for its Pepper humanoid robot that can often be seen roaming airports answering questions for confused travellers. Unlike Google, SoftBank was able to turn at least one of Boston Dynamics’ creations into a commercially available product when its Spot quadruped robot officially went on sale in June, earlier this year, with applications such as performing inspections in places where it’s not easy or safe for humans to tread. According to The Robot Report, over 400 of the $US74,500 ($99,860) Spot Explorer development kits were sold around the world, generating over $US30 ($40) million in revenue for SoftBank.
But, as first reported by Bloomberg last month, and today seemingly confirmed by The Korea Economic Daily “according to sources with knowledge of the matter” the SoftBank Group has sold Boston Dynamics to South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Company who, under chairman Chung Euisun, has been pursuing robotics with a stronger focus, among other ventures like electric cars.
Over the past couple of years Hyundai has been investing more and more in its robotics pursuits as well as autonomous vehicles, including a joint venture with Aptiv, but it remains to be seen what the company’s plans are for Boston Dynamics. Could ATLAS be fitted with one of those fancy valet vests turning any vehicle into an autonomous car? Let’s hope so.