Japanese internet, solar and technology company SoftBank Group Corp. is buying robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics from Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent. Terms of the deal, announced Friday, were not disclosed. SoftBank, which offers the Pepper companion robot, said the purchase underlines how robotics is a key part of its business.
Boston Dynamics makes various robots, including Big Dog and Spot, complex machines that walk and trot on four legs, as well as Atlas, which walks on two legs like a human. Atlas has arms and can open doors and lift items. Under Friday’s deal, SoftBank is also buying from Alphabet a company called Schaft that develops humanoids and came out of the University of Tokyo.
Japan, with its longtime culture of cartoons like “Astro Boy,” has a soft spot for cute robots. Various companies, including automakers Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., have developed entertainment robots, designed to do nothing more than keep people company.
But interest around the world is growing in the potential of robotics and artificial intelligence for everyday products like safer cars and connected home appliances. SoftBank bought British semiconductor company ARM Holdings, an innovator in the “internet of things,” last year. SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said robots will help solve problems that have been beyond human capabilities.
“Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the Information Revolution,” he said. “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,” Son said of Boston Dynamics.
SoftBank, the first carrier to offer the Apple iPhone in Japan, includes US carrier Sprint and Yahoo Japan in its group business. Son drew attention for hobnobbing with President Donald Trump late last year and promising to create jobs and invest in the US. Marc Raibert, CEO of Boston Dynamics, said he looked forward to working with SoftBank on creating technology for “a smarter and more connected world. We share SoftBank’s belief that advances in technology should be for the benefit of humanity,” he said.