Here’s a surprise turn of events: Softbank — maker of the friendly Pepper robot and a major M&A player in the tech world — has just announced that it is acquiring two more robotics companies from Google owner Alphabet as part of its own deeper move into the field: it is buying Big Dog developer Boston Dynamics and the secretive bipedal robotics firm Schaft.
A spokesperson for Softbank has confirmed to us that the terms of the deal are not being disclosed, but we will try to find out. In case you are wondering (we were), we have double checked and these are the only two of Alphabet’s robotics companies getting acquired by Softbank.
There had been lots of murmurs about Google (and then Alphabet) wanting to offload Boston Dynamics for over a year now. Most recently, Toyota was apparently eyeing up an acquisition of the two businesses.
But robots are huge across all of Japan, with some of the biggest innovations, investments, and motivations for developing them coming out of the country; and so, in the end, it looks like another titan of Japanese industry beat Toyota to the punch.
“Today, there are many issues we still cannot solve by ourselves with human capabilities,” said Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank Group Corp., in a statement. “Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the Information Revolution, and Marc and his team at Boston Dynamics are the clear technology leaders in advanced dynamic robots. I am thrilled to welcome them to the SoftBank family and look forward to supporting them as they continue to advance the field of robotics and explore applications that can help make life easier, safer and more fulfilling.”
While Softbank has been hard at work doubling down on big bets in areas that it believes will be at the center of the future of computing — other acquisitions have included its $24 billion acquisition of chip maker ARM Holdings — for Alphabet, this is part of the company’s bigger efforts to rationalise some of its many acquisitions and strategic bets over the years that have not panned out as great fits with the wider business.
It looks like the whole team is coming over with the deal. “We at Boston Dynamics are excited to be part of SoftBank’s bold vision and its position creating the next technology revolution, and we share SoftBank’s belief that advances in technology should be for the benefit of humanity,” said Marc Raibert, CEO and founder of Boston Dynamics, in a statement.
“We look forward to working with SoftBank in our mission to push the boundaries of what advanced robots can do and to create useful applications in a smarter and more connected world.”
When Alphabet (still called Google at the time) acquired Shaft and Boston Dynamics in 2013 (Shaft was purchased as one of a group of seven acquisitions), the company did not disclose the terms of the deals.
While Boston Dynamics has been pretty public in posting (sometimes terrifying) videos and generally talking about of its advances in making animal-like robots that can trek across all terrains and get up instantly when knocked over, Schaft has been a fairly quiet presence.
Schaft revealed its first big prototypes only about two years after the acquisition. The company has been around since 2012, after being incubated in the JSK Robotics Laboratory at the University of Tokyo by co-founders Yuto Nakanishi, Junichi Urata, Narito Suzuki and Koichi Nishiwaki. It remains a secretive company: an attempted visit to its website today was blocked.