SoftBank to buy Boston Dynamics, maker of animal-like robots

“SpotMini,” a robot by Boston Dynamics, entering an elevator during Genius Gala 6.0 in Jersey City, New Jersey, in May. The company has gained notice for its two- and four-legged robots, which move with uncanny balance and speed. Dave Kotinsky / Getty Images for Liberty Science Center

OAKLAND, Calif. — Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank sells a cute, humanoid robot named Pepper with blinking eyes and the ability to read human emotion.

Soon it may have mechanical creatures of a less adorable variety within its stable of robots.

On Thursday, SoftBank agreed to acquire Boston Dynamics, a manufacturer of animal-like robots, from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, for an undisclosed sum. SoftBank also agreed to acquire Schaft, a secretive Japanese bipedal robotics company, also owned by Alphabet.

“Today, there are many issues we still cannot solve by ourselves with human capabilities. Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the information revolution,” said Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive of SoftBank.


The deal is an unwinding of some of Google’s robotics investments. In 2013, Google began snapping up robotics companies to create a robot unit under Andy Rubin, the man who built Google’s Android smartphone software into the dominant operating system of the mobile era. Boston Dynamics was the highest-profile company acquired by Google during that buying spree.

After Rubin left Google in 2014, the company started to re-evaluate the robotics unit and put out feelers about selling off some of the companies involved, including Boston Dynamics.

Boston Dynamics, a company spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 25 years ago that has received funding from the Pentagon, gained notice for its two- and four-legged robots. Designed for military use, they move with uncanny balance and speed.

The videos of Boston Dynamics’ robots, with names like WildCat, Big Dog and Cheetah, were often big hits online, fueled by a mix of awe and terror as many pondered a Terminator-like future in which machines would rule humans.

SoftBank, a sprawling network of investments and companies managed by Son, Japan’s richest man, started out selling monthly computer magazines before moving into mobile telecommunications. It is now working toward creating a $100 billion fund for technology investments. In May, the company said it had $93 billion committed toward that goal.