Alphabet will sell two robotic units, Schaft and Boston Dynamics to the Japanese telecommunications firm SoftBank. Google’s parent company had acquired Boston Dynamics in 2013 but the robotic firm failed to fit in within the corporate structure of Alphabet. Details of how much SoftBank paid for the two companies were however not made available.
“Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the information revolution,” said the chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank, Masayoshi Son, in a statement to the media.
Reports indicate that Alphabet had been shopping for a buyer for Boston Dynamics which was spun off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a year. This is because of the public perception of the robots and the fact that they were unprofitable. One of the companies that Alphabet had approached was Toyota though a deal failed to materialize.
While Boston Dynamics has released several videos showing progress made in building robots and which gave the perception that the company was making great strides, these were more of proofs of concept as opposed to products which were ready for the market. Two years ago the U.S. Army indicated that it would not be going ahead with a deal to use one of the robots built by Boston Dynamics because of difficulties of repairing it and the fact that it was unnecessarily loud.
Unlike Alphabet though, SoftBank has managed to build robots that the market is interested in. In 2015 SoftBank acquired Aldebaran, a French robotics firm which builds the Pepper robot. Pepper was initially developed to be used as a greeter in SoftBank’s retail stores. When Pepper robots costing $1,600 were put up for sale in Japan in 2015, the reception was overwhelming and a new division was created around the robot, SoftBank Robotics. The new SoftBank unit has been concentrating on taking Pepper to markets outside Japan such the United States for sale to firms looking to use it as a marketing tool or a greeter.
The reason SoftBank needs Boston Dynamics is that its Pepper robots can barely do anything beyond basic interaction with human beings. Schaft and Boston Dynamics are, however, more advanced robotic companies building robots that are capable of carrying heavy loads. The founder of Boston Dynamics, Marc Raibert, also recently hinted that the company’s robots can assist in situations requiring emergency response or even in restaurants.