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SoftBank pumps $37m into robot dog company Boston Dynamics

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Boston’s dog: United States Marines and representatives from Boston Dynamics look at Spot, a four-legged robot designed for indoor and outdoor operation. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Japanese investment and telecoms giant SoftBank (9984.T) ploughed $37m into next generation robotics company Boston Dynamics after it bought the business from Google, accounts show.

Boston is known for its human-like robot Atlas and Petman, and its animal-like robots BigDog, Spot, and Wildcat. Videos of its robots running, jumping, and climbing have been watched tens of millions of times on YouTube.

Accounts filed with Companies House two weeks ago show that Softbank Group Capital, a UK-registered company that helps Softbank manage its overseas investments, made two loans totalling $37m to Boston Dynamics in June and September 2018.

The loans, which both carried an interest rate of 2.4%, were converted into two common shares of Boston Dynamics on 7 January 2019, the records show.

Neither Softbank nor Boston Dynamics responded to Yahoo Finance UK’s requests for comment in time for publication.

Softbank bought Boston Dynamics for a reported $100m in 2017 from Alphabet (GOOG), Google’s parent company.

Boston was founded in 1992 and grew out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It has worked closely with the US military in the past, developing some of its robots using funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The company was acquired by Softbank as part of the group’s long-term focus on robotics. Masayoshi Son, the CEO and founder of Softbank, has ploughed billions into long-term bets on technology including robotics. He has argued that demographic trends such as ageing populations will lead to robots playing an increasingly central role in people’s everyday lives, as well as entering the workforce.

Son founded SoftBank in Tokyo in 1981, originally as a computer parts store and publishing business. It later grew into a major global telecoms player and is now focusing on investing in promising new companies like WeWork and Flipkart. It has a market capitalization of ¥9.2trn ($82bn, £62bn).

SoftBank launched its $100bn Vision Fund tech investment vehicle in 2017. Investors in the fund include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Apple, Qualcomm, Foxconn, and Sharp. Boston Dynamics is not a Vision Fund investment and is held by the main Softbank company.

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Oscar Williams-Grut covers banking, fintech, and finance for Yahoo Finance UK. Follow him on Twitter at @OscarWGrut.

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