A South Korean automaker is taking over Boston Dynamics, the robotics company best known for concocting viral stunt videos featuring quirky animatrons.
The Japanese conglomerate SoftBank will cede control of Boston Dynamics to Hyundai, the automobile company that owns Kia Motors and Genesis, in a deal valued at $1.1 billion, the car company announced Friday. Under the agreement, Hyundai will gain an 80% stake in the robotics firm while one of Softbank’s affiliates will hold the other 20%.
Hyundai’s controlling stake is meant to enhance its plan for autonomous vehicles and “smart factories,” the auto company said. Hyundai said it was interested in Boston Dynamics because the automation company “possesses multiple key technologies for high-performance robots equipped with perception, navigation and intelligence.”
“This transaction will unite capabilities of Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics to spearhead innovation in future mobility,” said Hyundai executive Euisun Chung in a statement. “We will also contribute to the society by enhancing its safety, security, public health amid global trends of aging society and digital transformation.”
Hyundai also said it benefits from Boston Dynamics’ location. The robotics firm has offices in Boston and Silicon Valley, and both regions are known as hubs for robotics innovations. The move also aligns with Hyundai’s existing robot division, which creates wearable limbs and walking supports for people who have difficulty getting around.
The deal is expected to close by June of 2021.
Boston Dynamics is widely recognized for pioneering the field of agile robots that are inspired by animals. The legged robots are built to remain balanced as they maneuver through rocky trails, up and down staircases or through narrow passages. Several videos of the company’s robotic dog Spot, cat Cheetah and humanoid Atlas have gone viral, stoking terror and admiration across the internet.
The latest clip on the company’s YouTube channel highlights its animal-like robots scaling hills, standing upright, playing sports and navigating industrial settings. Its most popular stunt video with more than 67,000 views shows one of the company’s boxy yellow robots extending its neck to twist a door handle and open the door. It held the door open for another robot dog to get through.
Boston Dynamics has switched hands a few times since its inception in the 1990s.
Google’s parent company Alphabet picked it up for an undisclosed amount in 2013 but shed the company four years later after it didn’t fit well with its broader business. Namely, Boston Dynamics didn’t have a mass-market product as Google ramped up its smart home division with products such as its Fiber internet service and Nest speakers.
Boston Dynamics launched its first commercial offering, a configurable robot dog for businesses, in June. It’s meant to augment difficult or dangerous human work, according to the company.
SoftBank took over the engineering firm in 2017 in a bid to create “the next technology revolution,” it said at the time. As part of the deal with Alphabet, SoftBank also absorbed the Japanese robotics company Schaft.