Google parent backs away from autonomous robotics, but Japan-based telco says it is a key driver of the information revolution.
Softbank on Friday agreed to acquire Alphabet’s robotics units, Boston Dynamics and Schaft, as Google’s parent refocuses on monetising data.
Alphabet’s Google X arm acquired Boston Dynamics in December 2013. The company is best known for developing a four-legged robot designed to accompany soldiers, called ‘BigDog’.
Schaft meanwhile specialises in two-legged robots. It was founded at the University of Tokyo in 2012, and was also acquired by Google in December 2013.
"There are many issues we still cannot solve by ourselves with human capabilities," said Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, in a statement. "Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the information revolution, and Marc [Raibert, CEO and founder of Boston Dynamics] and his team at Boston Dynamics are the clear leaders in advanced dynamic robots."
The acquisition fits with Son’s 30-year vision, which centres on positioning Softbank to usher in, and therefore benefit from, the emergence of super-intelligence, or the singularity.
It is this vision that led Softbank to acquire U.K.-based chip designer ARM in 2016 for €28.8 billion, and why it is in the process of establishing a $100 billion venture capital fund.
"We at Boston Dynamics are excited to be part of Softbank’s bold vision and its position creating the next technology revolution," said Raibert. "We share Softbank’s belief that advances in technology should be for the benefit of humanity."
Financial terms were not disclosed. The deals are subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals.
For Alphabet, the sale reflects a refocusing on its core activities around gathering, analysing, and monetising data.
"At the end of the day, Alphabet is a data analytics company whose objective is to categorise and understand every piece of digital information that users generate and to sell those insights to marketers," said Radio Free Mobile founder Richard Windsor, in a research note.
"Autonomous robots that can carry out physical tasks do not generate data about users because they are designed to replace them, making them a bad fit inside Alphabet," he said.
He also pointed out that Google’s robotics effort was the brainchild of Android co-creator Andy Rubin, who left Google in 2014, and recently returned to the device market with a new company, Essential.
Boston Dynamics and Schaft "will be much more at home inside a company that can make use of them," Windsor said.