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Future mobility

Hyundai Motor may buy Boston Dynamics to bolster robotics business

Nov 10, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

Hyundai Motor Co. may acquire Boston Dynamics Inc., a US-based robotics company, from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. in a deal worth as much as $1 billion, as the South Korean automaker increases investments in future mobility.

The potential deal would give Korea’s largest automaker control over the US robot maker, Bloomberg reported on Nov. 10, citing sources familiar with the matter. However, the terms of the transaction are yet to be finalized and a deal may not even materialize, they added.

'Spot,' a maneuverable dog-like robot (Courtesy: Boston Dynamics)

Hyundai Motor didn’t confirm the report, but said: “As a global business entity, Hyundai Motor is continuously exploring various investment and partnership opportunities.”

Boston Dynamics reportedly said its operations continue to “excite partners interested in exploring a deeper commercial relationship with our company.”

SoftBank declined to comment on the possible deal.

Boston Dynamics is an American robotics company that was spun off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. SoftBank acquired the company from Google owner Alphabet in 2017 for an undisclosed sum.

Boston Dynamics is known for technologically advanced but unprofitable machines such as “Spot,” a maneuverable dog-like robot. Videos of its creations have racked up millions of views on YouTube. By contrast, Hyundai Motor makes highly practical industrial robots intended for factory use.

CREATING SYNERGY WITH ROBOTICS PURHCASE

Industry analysts say that chances are high for Hyundai Motor to acquire Boston Dynamics, given the synergy to be created by combining strengths of the two companies. 

Hyundai could apply the US firm’s robot technology to its autonomous driving and urban air mobility projects and use robots in last-mile delivery of products, they said. 

“If Hyundai’s mass-production techniques are combined with Boston Dynamic’s robot technology, it would lead to a drastic cut in prices of the robots. The acquisition, if realized, will likely put Hyundai to a top place in the global robot market,” said an industry official.

Hyundai to shift business focus toward smart mobility

IN PURSUIT OF SMART MOBILITY

If realized, the deal would be the latest in a series of acquisitions Hyundai has pursued as it strengthens its robotics business.

Hyundai Motor’s new Chairman Chung Euisun, who took the automotive group’s leadership last month, has publicly declared that robotics will account for 20% of its future business, with automobiles taking up half of its sales, followed by urban air mobility (UAM) at 30%.

Hyundai's Elevate concept vehicle unveiled at CES 2019.

Hyundai Motor has shown growing interest in automated vehicle technology and robotics over the past years.

In May last year, the automaker invested 1.76 billion won ($1.58 million) in Boston-based Realtime Robotics for a 2.6% stake. The company has also aggressively recruited R&D talent specialized in robotics since 2018.

Hyundai last year unveiled a wearable robot, Vest Exoskeleton (VEX), designed for production-line workers who need to work with their hands above their heads. 

At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, the company unveiled the Elevate concept vehicle that walks on four robotic legs. Hyundai envisioned at the time that the Elevate-style vehicle could help first responders traverse harsh terrain after natural disasters, or pick up wheelchair users who don’t have access to a ramp at their doorstep. The concept would be able to travel at highway speeds and climb a five-foot wall, according to Hyundai Motor.

Hyundai said it will invest up to 1.5 trillion won in robotics by 2025.

More recently, the company has formed a joint venture, Motional Inc., with self-driving car technology developer Aptiv.

In August, Hyundai Motor said it aims to launch the world’s first commercial robotaxi, or Level 4 autonomous driving vehicle with no human involvement, through Motional.

Write to Byung-Uk Do at dodo@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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