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Future mobility

Hyundai eyes smart mobility with Boston Dynamics acquisition

The automaker aims to use robotics tech in self-driving and urban air mobility projects

By Jun 21, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Dog-like robot Spot, humanoid robot Atlas and Hyundai's NEXO hydrogen fuel cell car
Dog-like robot Spot, humanoid robot Atlas and Hyundai's NEXO hydrogen fuel cell car

Hyundai Motor Co. said on Monday it is shifting its business focus toward smart mobility from brick-and-mortar carmaking following its acquisition last December of US robotics startup Boston Dynamics Inc.

The top South Korean automaker said it has completed the purchase of Boston Dynamics by obtaining necessary approval from the US authorities for the $880 million deal.

In December 2020, Hyundai Motor Group said it is acquiring an 80% stake in Boston Dynamics, known for its maneuverable dog-like robot Spot, from Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. to leverage its robotics technology in other industrial areas.

Now that the acquisition is completed, Hyundai said it will seek ways to apply the US firm’s robot technology to its autonomous driving and urban air mobility (UAM) projects and use robots in smart factories and last-mile product delivery.

The US startup’s robotics technology could also be used in wearable robots for various industrial uses, it said.

FIRST BUYOUT DEAL AS CHAIRMAN

The acquisition is the first buyout deal for Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Euisun since he assumed Hyundai’s top post last October, accelerating the group’s push into the future mobility market. Hyundai has chosen robotics as one of its key growth engines, alongside electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell cars.

Boston Dynamics' Spot
Boston Dynamics' Spot

Hyundai Motor has shown a growing interest in automated vehicle technology and robotics in recent years, and said it will invest up to 1.5 trillion won ($1.4 billion) in robotics by 2025.

Chairman Chung said in a town hall meeting with group employees in October that robotics will account for 20% of its future business, with automobiles making up half of its sales, followed by UAM at 30%.

Earlier this month, Chung visited the headquarters of Boston Dynamics during his second US trip this year to discuss the latest robotics technology trends with researchers.

Boston Dynamics' dog-like robot Spot, equipped with cutting-edge cognitive and control technology, can walk upstairs freely and dodge obstacles with the aid of eight cameras attached to its body. If it falls, it uses its legs to stand up. At times, it will sit or make playful movements.

In addition to Spot, Boston Dynamics has also invented a humanoid robot Atlas, which can do challenging movements such as handstands and somersaults, offering a wider range of control and flexibility than Spot.

PERSONAL COMMITMENT TO FUTURE MOBILITY

In a show of his commitment to future mobility, Chung spent his own money to acquire a 20% stake in Boston Dynamics as part of Hyundai’s 80% purchase of the robotics startup.

Graphics by Jerry Lee
Graphics by Jerry Lee

The remaining 60% stake is shared by three Hyundai Motor Group affiliates –30% by Hyundai Motor, 20% by Hyundai Mobis Co. and 10% by Hyundai Glovis Co.

The remaining 20% stake is held by SoftBank Group, led by its CEO Masayoshi Son.

The US robot maker was originally spun off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992, acquired by Google owner Alphabet in 2014 and then sold to SoftBank in 2017.

In December 2020, Boston Dynamics and NASA jointly developed Au-Spot, an AI robot trained to explore Mars.

Write to Il-Gue Kim at Black0419@hankyung.com

In-Soo Nam edited this article.

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