Robot Reshuffle: Alphabet Sells Boston Dynamics and Schaft to SoftBank

In a deal that was a long time coming, Google’s parent company Alphabet has sold robotics firms Boston Dynamics and Schaft to Japanese tech giant SoftBank. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Boston Dynamics was rumored to be on the market for the past year, with potential suitors including Toyota and Amazon. The robotics company, known for its spectacular videos of walking and running machines (one pictured above), was acquired by Google in 2013. Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former professor at Carnegie Mellon and MIT.

Raibert said in a prepared statement: “We at Boston Dynamics are excited to be part of SoftBank’s bold vision and its position creating the next technology revolution, and we share SoftBank’s belief that advances in technology should be for the benefit of humanity. We look forward to working with SoftBank in our mission to push the boundaries of what advanced robots can do and to create useful applications in a smarter and more connected world.”

Meanwhile, Schaft is well known in the robotics community for its two-legged humanoid robots. The company was founded in 2012 out of the JSK Robotics Laboratory at the University of Tokyo.

SoftBank has some experience in robotics. The company acquired a majority stake in Aldebaran, a French humanoid robot maker (since renamed SoftBank Robotics), in 2012. SoftBank is also an investor in other companies working on robots and related technologies, such as Silicon Valley’s Fetch Robotics.

Google’s strategy in robotics remains a bit of a question mark. Android co-founder Andy Rubin was in charge when the company acquired Boston Dynamics and Schaft, but he left in 2014 and has since moved on to Playground Global and Essential Products. Rubin’s successor, James Kuffner, left Google and joined Toyota Research Institute last year.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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