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By Sheng Jiaying
Source: lieyun (ID: ilieyun)
Softbank has agreed to sell Boston power to Hyundai for 1 trillion won, or 6.012 billion yuan, according to the Korea economic daily.
Hyundai will hold about 80% of Boston Dynamics, valued at $880 million, according to an agreement finalized by Hyundai’s board of directors on December 10. Softbank, on the other hand, retains about 20% of its shares through one of its subsidiaries. Hyundai subsidiary Hyundai Motor, Hyundai Mobis, Hyundai glovis and Zheng Yixuan, chairman of the group, respectively participated in the acquisition. The deal, subject to regulatory approval and other requirements, is expected to be completed in June 2021.
From Google to Softbank to Hyundai, the Boston Dynamics, known as “Internet red robot”, has changed owners three times, and its value has dropped from $3 billion in 2013 to $921 million today.
Once “wanghong robot company”
In 1992, Boston dynamics was separated from MIT and independently engaged in the research and development of military projects. It was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It provided military robots and related technical consulting services for the U.S. Department of defense, the U.S. Army, the Navy and the Marine Corps.
Both MIT and DARPA funded Boston Dynamics and its founder mark Leibert lived in the “ivory tower”, which made the company not under much financial pressure. Mark Leibert once said: “robot products that have not experienced at least 25 years of dedicated research are not enough for commercialization.”
In order to make the biped or quadruped robot develop into a kind of supernatural product, Boston Dynamics has produced more than ten robot (robot dog) products since its establishment.
In 2005, at the request of the U.S. military, Boston Dynamics launched a four legged robot named “big dog”, which can help us soldiers carry equipment and transport materials, especially in rugged terrain.
But Boston power’s best-known product is the spot series, which is a mechanical dog made by the net red.
In the video of robot dog spot, we can see that spot can avoid obstacles, keep balance in extreme environment, carry 14kg goods, and work in rain and dusty environment. Up and down the stairs, open the door, serve tea and pour water.
Previously, Boston Dynamics released a video of Altas back flip, a biped robot, which netizens jokingly called “marching into gymnastics”.
From big dog, Atlas biped robot to robot dog spot, the top foot robot technology of Boston Dynamics is behind the popularity of social media.
Gao zhenzeng, an assistant professor at McMaster University’s School of engineering practice and technology, said: “at present, Boston power’s demonstration products are technically superior in terms of motion coordination, stability, robustness, dynamic and static performance, etc. Take the big dog as an example. The big dog has a very strong movement ability. It uses hydraulic drive, which can be said to be the world’s leader in the field of quadruped motion control. ”
Although Boston Dynamics has been recognized as a global leader in the field of quadruped motion control, it is inevitable that how can the technology be realized?
In 2013, Boston dynamics was acquired by Google under the halo of netred robotics.
Google wanted Boston Dynamics to develop commercial robots first, mass production and commercialization, and maintain development with its profits, but was rejected by the idealistic Boston Dynamics.
For a long time, Boston Dynamics adheres to the concept of research first and does not attach importance to commercial applications, which makes Google unable to accept that “we can’t put more than 30% of our resources on a product that takes more than 10 years to mature. We need to pay all kinds of expenses through revenue, so there should be a time limit for any investment. ”
In just over two years, Google announced the sale of Boston power. Sun Zhengyi, who has been optimistic about the future of robots, took over the offer decisively.
Why should Softbank sell?
After leaving Google, Softbank and Boston Dynamics had a honeymoon.
Prior to the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, sun Zhengyi invested in robot companies for many times, and publicly said: “through vigorously developing robots, Japan’s economic competitiveness will return to the first in the world.”
For a long time, sun Zhengyi always had a dream of a robot empire. He regards robots as Softbank’s pillar business alongside communications, and aims to create an unprecedented robot ecosystem.
At the beginning of the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, Softbank also said that it would continue to support the research and development of Boston Dynamics and provide sufficient funds for it, so as to promote Boston Dynamics to take the “t” line in the field of foot robots, and make efforts in two lines of depth and width.
In order to repay Softbank’s support, with the support of $37 million in R & D funding, Boston Dynamics finally took the first step toward commercialization after 28 years of its establishment.
In June 2020, Boston Dynamics officially launched the spot Mini Robot with a price of about 75000 US dollars (about 490000 RMB) for enterprises and individual consumers. According to rob putter, the new chief executive of Boston Dynamics, at the end of October, spot MINI has won 260 orders in just three months, which can bring back about $20 million.
But in fact, the current production capacity of Boston power is very limited. The annual production capacity is only 1000 units / year, and the maximum annual withdrawal fund is 75 million US dollars.
For Softbank, which has “constant problems” this year, holding a future company is not enough to support the status quo.
In the past year, valuations of 47 of the 88 companies invested by Softbank have fallen, and about 15 of them will go bankrupt. Softbank’s share price also plummeted.
To ease the debt crisis, Softbank has publicly announced that it will sell up to $41 billion of assets in the coming year. In March, Softbank announced the sale of some shares in Alibaba, sprint / t-moblie and other companies; in addition, Softbank sold arm, a decade old favorite, for $40 billion.
According to the New York Times, Mr. Sun told DealBook in November that Softbank had recently sold about $80 billion in assets. It’s double the plan at the beginning of the year.
In the next two or three months, any disaster could happen, and Softbank just provided liquidity to the company in the worst case to prevent a global emergency, Mr. Sun said.
In the case of Softbank’s unfavourable years, the Boston power with hard to find commercial landing scene and high cost has to be sold into modern times. For Softbank, living is more important than ideal.
Why should Hyundai buy it?
As early as last month, it was revealed by Bloomberg that Softbank was discussing the acquisition of Boston power with Hyundai Motor. At that time, Hyundai Motor said in an email statement that the company would continue to explore various investment and cooperation opportunities.
Until December 10, Hyundai’s board of directors finalized an agreement that Hyundai would hold about 80% of Boston Dynamics, worth about $880 million.
The acquisition is the first acquisition since Zheng Yixuan took office as chairman of Hyundai in October, accelerating the pace of Hyundai’s march into the future mobile market.
Since the “sad incident” in 2017, the production capacity and sales volume of Hyundai Automobile have been shrinking, and the technical bottlenecks have been exposed. The old brand automobile group needs to change its face through technological reform.
Earlier, Zheng Yixuan said in a public speech that the current global automobile manufacturing will face the situation of oversupply, predicted that many automobile enterprises would disappear in the future, and proposed that the emergence of modern automobile would be in the future mobile travel business.
To this end, the modern choice of robotics, together with electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, is a new growth engine for modern vehicles.
In 2019, Hyundai Motor once launched the concept of “walking car” at CES in Las Vegas. The modern concept car of elevation is called the ultimate motor vehicle (umv), which is a rescue vehicle. The wheels are connected to the body by a leg like linkage and have separate motors. When the connecting rod is folded, it can run like an ordinary car. After being extended, it can not only run with wheels turning, but also walk like a quadruped. Rescue vehicles that can handle any disaster.
From the perspective of structure, it is an enlarged version of Boston power robot dog. The introduction of Boston power may be a modern hope to combine automobile and robot, so that cars can walk or even climb on “legs”.
In October this year, Hyundai announced the establishment of new horizons studio, focusing on how to connect automotive technology with robotics and the Internet of things to break through the boundaries of vehicle engineering.
According to media reports, Boston power is likely to enter the new vision studio. Hyundai and Boston power may jointly redefine the vehicle form, and how future vehicles will drive across off-road terrain, even places that traditional vehicles have never involved.
Although Boston power’s price has fallen and its commercialization is poor, its key technologies such as balance control algorithm and hydraulic drive technology are still strong.
Hyundai also said in a statement to acquire Boston dynamics that the decision was based on its growth potential and broad capabilities, which have a number of key technologies for equipping high-performance robots with perception, navigation and intelligence.
At the same time, Hyundai said it would continue to work to achieve free and safe mobility for mankind through open innovation, and the robot market has the potential for substantial growth in the future.
Hyundai expects robotics to bring synergy to new mobile solutions such as autonomous driving and UAM, as well as intelligent factory platforms the company hopes to develop in the near future. In addition, other entities of Hyundai are expected to contribute their manufacturing, R & D, and logistics capabilities to help build a new value chain with a robot focus, which is expected to generate synergies with Boston Dynamics.
(statement: This article only represents the author’s point of view, not Sina’s position.)