Korean car-maker Hyundai has now acquired a controlling interest in Boston Dynamics, the US-based maker of robotic dogs and other humanoid robots once owned by Google parent Alphabet.
According to a recent Bloomberg report, Alphabet sold Boston Dynamics to SoftBank in 2017 for about $165 million, but it was costing it $150 million annually in operation costs, and by late 2020 was in talks to sell the business to Hyundai.
In December, Hyundai announced a $1.1 billion deal to buy an 80% controlling interest in Boston Dynamics.
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Boston Dynamics is perhaps best know for its robotic dog, Spot, which was made commercially available last year. It's also manufactured Stretch, a slightly less intimidating robot that's designed to move boxes around the warehouse floor. Spot, meanwhile, has been 'trained' to follow humans around.
The Hyundai Motor Group said it expects "synergy between the companies to accelerate the development of cutting-edge robotics featuring advanced mobility, manipulation and vision capabilities."
Hyundai completed the deal after receiving regulatory approval.
Singapore deployed Spot in a park during the first wave of pandemic restrictions to help ensure people were social distancing. Auto-maker Ford has experimented with Spot at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant to capture plant data and measurements to help retool the line. The robot dog walks around the plant to capture data about the plant as Ford builds a new engineering model.
Hyundai released a new video of Spot and other robots that aims to creates a softer, friendlier image for the robots working for the good of humanity.
Hyundai's friendlier depiction of Spot shows the robotic dog leading a blind man through a park, Spot bringing medical reports on a tablet to a doctor, and a humanoid robot dancing with a young girl in a park. It's all about crafting an image of robots to improve humanity rather than the often-repeated narrative of robots taking jobs.
"In the field of robotics, the [Hyundai] Group aims to develop advanced technologies that enhance people's lives and promote safety, thereby realizing the progress for humanity," Hyundai said.
Hyundai has also been working on a robotic 'walking car' as part of its push into new mobility. Last year it showed off its Elevate UMV ("Ultimate Mobility Vehicle), which didn't move quite as fluidly as Spot. Nonetheless, Hyundai argued a walking car could be useful for search and rescue, as well as helping people with walking difficulties to get to their car without lifts or ramps.