Google Parent Sells Robotics Unit to SoftBank

Since Ruth Porat became CFO last year, Alphabet has been taking "significant measures to slim down its experimental efforts."
Matthew HellerJune 12, 2017
Google Parent Sells Robotics Unit to SoftBank

Google parent company Alphabet is parting company with one of its experimental “moonshots,” agreeing to sell robotics pioneer Boston Dynamics to Japan’s SoftBank Group.

Boston Dynamics, which was acquired by Google in 2013 and is best-known for its “Big Dog” line of quadrupedal robots, has been up for sale for more than a year. Terms of the deal with SoftBank, which makes the Pepper companion robot, were not disclosed.

SoftBank said the deal aligns with its “vision of catalyzing the next wave of smart robotics.” As part of the transaction, it is also acquiring Schaft, an Alphabet unit that develops biped robots.

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“Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the Information Revolution,” CEO Masayoshi Son said in a news release. “I am thrilled to welcome [Boston Dynamics and Schaft] to the SoftBank family and look forward to supporting them as they continue to advance the field of robotics and explore applications that can help make life easier, safer and more fulfilling.”

Boston Dynamics has pioneered techniques for helping robots maneuver real-world environments and adapt to complex changes in terrain. But according to The Verge, “it appears Alphabet leadership didn’t quite know what it would ultimately do with the company.”

“As part of an overall restructuring and cost-saving strategy set forth by Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat last year, the company has taken significant measures to slim down its experimental efforts and rein in its ‘moonshot’ projects,” The Verge noted.

“Other Bets,” the Alphabet division that includes the experimental businesses, has been losing money, posting an $855 million loss against $244 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2017. Porat has stressed to investors that Alphabet can develop “new sources of revenue growth” from its various projects in a “disciplined way.”

The Guardian said Boston Dynamics had also “failed to fit in with the wider corporate culture of its parent company,” noting that Alphabet has a general rule against taking military contracts and the robotics unit has struggled to find a civilian client for its creations.