Hyundai Motor Group said Tuesday it has officially completed its acquisition of robotics company Boston Dynamics. The deal was announced in December and valued Boston Dynamics at $1.1 billion. Through the purchase, Hyundai will acquire an 80 percent majority stake in the company, with the previous owner, Softbank, retaining 20 percent ownership.
The deal will hopefully create a stable home for Boston Dynamics, which has continued to pump out the world’s most impressive robots despite ongoing ownership changes. The company was spun off from MIT in 1992 and survived most of its life on DARPA research grants. Google acquired the independent Boston Dynamics in 2013 as part of a brief interest in robotics led by Android co-founder Andy Rubin. Google freed the company from surviving on military contracts, but when Rubin left Google a year later, the executive’s interest in robotics left with him.
Google sold Boston Dynamics to Japanese holding company Softbank in 2017 for a reported $165 million, a shockingly low price. In December 2020, Softbank found itself in serious financial trouble after some of its other investments moved south (Uber, WeWork, OneWeb) and started selling crown jewels like Arm. Hyundai wanted to invest in more ‘mobility solutions’ and Softbank was able to flip Boston Dynamics for a tidy profit.
The acquisition is quite exciting for Boston Dynamics. While the company has been providing industry-leading robotics work for years, it’s all been pure research. Boston Dynamics only started selling a product called the $74,500 robot dog “Spot” a year ago. If Boston Dynamics is ever going to sell enough robots to be profitable, it’s essential to cut costs. There aren’t many companies that specialize in the mass production of parts and components for robotics, but an automaker seems quite a good fit for a company that could make the leap.
Hyundai Motor Group is a top 5 automaker thanks to its ownership of Hyundai Motor Company-the ‘Hyundai’ car brand you’ve been thinking about all along – and Kia Motors. Hyundai Motor Group also owns Hyundai Rotem – maker of trains, production equipment and military tanks (!) – along with the Hyundai racing team and Hyundai Engineering & Construction. If this starts to sound complicated, welcome to the world of South Korean conglomerates. Hyundai Motor Group is the second largest behind Samsung Group. Don’t confuse the Hyundai Motor Group with all those other companies that start with ‘Hyundai’.
The good news for Boston Dynamics is that Hyundai has a lot of experience building production lines, designing parts for mass production and saving money through economies of scale. These are all things a previously research-oriented robotics company probably doesn’t have much expertise in.
The press release says as much: “The deal is also expected to [Hyundai Motor] Group and Boston Dynamics to make the most of each other’s strengths in production, logistics, construction and automation. Together, the Group and Boston Dynamics will create a robotics value chain, from the manufacture of robotic components to smart logistics solutions. In addition, the Group will support Boston Dynamics’ continued expansion of its product line and global sales and service footprint.”
Boston Dynamics has sold “hundreds” of units of its Spot robot dog (including to SpaceX) for at least $74,500 each. There are plenty of accessories for Spot, such as a charging station, a robotic arm that can open doors and swing flaps, and several cameras for remote inspection of hazardous areas. The company also sells “Pick” vision software for robotic arms, which allows third-party hardware to intelligently depalletize boxes. Boston Dynamics’ second commercial robot will be ‘Stretch’, a depalletizing robot built for flexible mobile warehouse work. Stretch will be launched in 2022. The company’s other current project is ‘Atlas’, a humanoid research platform.
List image by Hyundai Motor Group