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Alibaba and Foxconn join SoftBank to invest millions in robotic industry

Alibaba has invested $118 million in SoftBank Robotics Holdings to prepare for what Alibaba founder Jack Ma refers to as the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution'.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba announced on June 18 its 145 yen ($118 million) investment in SoftBank Robotics Holdings (SBRH), a company that was previously owned by SoftBank and recently launched "Pepper", the world's first robot of emotional capability, as reported by China Daily on Thursday.

After the investment, Alibaba will hold 20 percent of SBRH's shares, while Taiwanese technology company Foxconn owns another 20 percent, and SoftBank owns the remaining 60 percent.

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SBRH was founded by SoftBank in 2012, following the acquisition of Aldebaran, a French robotic company, earlier that year, according to the report.

Jack Ma, founder and board director of Alibaba, equated equipping Pepper with emotions to the "Fourth Industrial Revolution", and claimed that by doing so, people would be better understand their inner selves, Sina.com reported.

According to Ma, the robotic industry will not only be the catalyst to technological breakthroughs in fields such as medical treatment, public service, and the smart home, but it will also transform industrial structure and mode of thinking, and spur invention.

The Chinese newspaper also quoted experts who said that Alibaba's interest in the industry has been fuelled by a promising future market and the "Made in China 2025" strategy, which was first announced by Beijing in the past May. The state decree listed numerical control machines and robotics among the 10 most important industries for the country.

Another report released by worldrobotics.org in January said that the number of industrial robots in the country will more than double from today's 200,000 by 2017.