It’s official. Boston Dynamics is becoming part of the Hyundai family (pending regulatory approval, naturally). The Waltham, Massachusetts-based robot maker confirmed that the South Korean technology company is acquiring controlling interest in a press release today. The deal, which values the company at $1.1 billion, gives Hyundai Motor Group an 80% stake, with SoftBank controlling the remaining 20%.
The transaction marks the Spot-maker’s third change of hands in a mere seven years. After nearly a quarter-century operating as a research firm (with some big financial help from organizations like DARPA), it sold to Google in 2013, becoming part of a new robotics wing led by then-executive Andy Rubin.
After Google X Robotics was largely dissolved, Boston Dynamics changed hands in 2017, becoming a subsidiary of Japanese investment giant, Softbank. It was an odd fit for the company, and a rough year for Softbank likely hasn’t helped matters. At very least, Hyundai is a more logical home for the company, after being owned by a firm whose best-known robot is Pepper, the humanoid hospitality ‘bot.
As we noted while reporting on earlier rumors about the acquisition, Hyundai has been making some big investments in the category. The list includes a recent joint venture with Aptiv to commercialize autonomous driving systems. There’s also the recently announced ultimate mobility vehicles or UMV – a borderline sci-fi vehicle with legs.
“Boston Dynamics’ commercial business has grown rapidly as we’ve brought to market the first robot that can automate repetitive and dangerous tasks in workplaces designed for human-level mobility,”CEO Rob Playter said in a release tied to the deal. “We and Hyundai share a view of the transformational power of mobility and look forward to working together to accelerate our plans to enable the world with cutting edge automation, and to continue to solve the world’s hardest robotics challenges for our customers.”
Boston Dynamics, of course, has been blurring the lines between science fiction and reality for several decades now. More recently, however, it’s taken a much stronger interest in commercializing its advanced technologies. Under Softbank, the company launched Spot, a quadruped robot that draws on years of robotic innovation, including the iconic Big Dog.
Spot went up for sale last year in limited quantities. It’s now available for anyone in the U.S. with $74,500 burning a hole in their pocket. The company is also pushing to commercialize its wheeled Handle robot for warehouse and fulfillment related purposes. That robot is due out some time next year. While the sophistication and resulting price tags for the company’s robots have drawn a fair bit of skepticism, investors have taken increased interest in robots and automation firms in the wake of year-long COVID-19-related shutdowns.
“Hyundai Motor Group will provide Boston Dynamics a strategic partner affording access to Hyundai Motor Group’s in-house manufacturing capability and cost benefits stemming from efficiencies of scale,” according to the release. “Boston Dynamics will benefit substantially from new capital, technology, affiliated customers, and Hyundai Motor Group’s global market reach enhancing commercialization opportunity for its robot products.”
The deal is expected to close in by June.