Google sells off Boston Dynamics to SoftBank


Japanese tech company SoftBank will acquire Boston Dynamics, a high-profile robotics firm that was picked up by Google X in December 2013 and then moved under the Alphabet umbrella. Boston Dynamics is famous for creating a series of animal-like robots, including the original sounds-like-a-swarm-of-bees BigDog, robot-land-speed-record-holder Cheetah, the militarised AlphaDog, and a couple of bipedal humanoid robots (Petman, Atlas) as well.

Terms of the deal haven’t been disclosed by SoftBank or Alphabet, nor do we know how much Google X originally paid for Boston Dynamics. It is probably not a small sum, though. As part of the deal SoftBank is also picking up Schaft, a smaller humanoid robotics group that Google acquired just before Boston Dynamics.

Boston Dynamics was reportedly on the chopping block as far back as March 2016, because Google/Alphabet were apparently struggling to commercialise the robots.

The original BigDog video from 2010, which took the world by storm.

Atlas, one of Boston Dynamics’ humanoid bots.

Google’s ambitions for Boston Dynamics were never really clear. Before being acquired, the robotics company was mostly funded by DARPA—the US military’s research division—with the express purpose of creating militarised robots. Within a year of being picked up, though, Google announced that it would no longer pursue any DARPA contracts, presumably to focus on possible commercial uses for the bots. No commercial robots ever emerged.

SoftBank, however, has had success with commercialising robots—specifically the small humanoid robot Pepper.

Presumably, by selling off both Schaft and Boston Dynamics, Google’s dreams of electric sheep humanoid robots have been put on hold.

Last year, SoftBank acquired UK chip design company ARM for £24 billion, one of the largest tech deals the UK has ever seen. In the US, SoftBank owns the mobile carrier Sprint.

Now read about pizza, the unsung agent of the robot revolution…

This post originated on Ars Technica UK