After more than a year, Alphabet, the holding company formed by Google, has found a buyer for robotics company Boston Dynamics. SoftBank, a Japanese tech firm that has been on a bit of an acquisition spree as of late, has agreed to buy the company for an undisclosed amount. It also picked up a smaller robotics company, Schaft, as part of the deal.
Boston Dynamics is perhaps the highest-profile robotics company out there, thanks to a regular release of its unsettlingly lifelike robots, starting with “BigDog” a decade ago:
At the time, Boston Dynamics had a contract with DARPA, which hoped to somehow use its robots for military operations, but those plans were eventually shelved.
Google purchased the company for an unknown amount in 2013, but eventually put it up for sale in March of last year, as it began to scale back its “moon shots” that didn’t appear to have a clear pathway to making revenue. In other words, Boston Dynamics hasn’t found a way to make money off its creations — even if its creations can do things like this:
That Boston Dynamics was on the market for so long suggests a couple of things. One, Alphabet was likely seeking a pretty high price for it — or at least wasn’t willing to accept too large a loss on selling it. Two, that other potential buyers had similar concerns to Alphabet; while each new Boston Dynamics robot gets heavy media attention on release, that hasn’t translated into revenue. Three, even if there were standing orders for its robots, there’s real difficulty in scaling up production for the tremendously complex machines like the ones Boston Dynamics creates. The fabrication plants for machines like this don’t exist, and those fabrication plants would likely cost many, many billions of dollars to create.
SoftBank made ripples in the tech world after it formed the $100 billion Vision Fund last year, making it by far the largest VC fund in the world. It’s unclear if Boston Dynamics and Schaft will go under the Vision Fund umbrella.