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Hyundai completes Boston Dynamics acquisition

US robotics company will complement Hyundai's AI expertise

Hyundai has completed its $1.1 billion acquisition of Boston Dynamics from SoftBank. 

The purchase, first announced in December 2020, will see Hyundai take an 80% controlling interest in the robotics manufacturer, while SoftBank will retain 20% of the equity through an affiliate company. 

Google acquired Boston Dynamics, which was founded in 1992 as an MIT spinoff, in 2013, before its parent company Alphabet sold it to SoftBank in 2017. 

Boston Dynamics launched its first commercial robot, Spot, in June 2020, and this dog-like robot has since been used by bomb squads and law enforcement units. Users can attach a robotic arm to Spot and use it to light and inspect items, to manipulate valves, flip levers, and open doors. 

The company's robots are predominantly designed for use in construction and inspection, but it's also building capabilities in warehousing automation with its robot called Stretch. This new robot will launch as a pilot in March and enter commercial production in 2022.  

Stretch will help move boxes in warehouses, beginning with truck unloading, and it will eventually evolve to handle order building, according to Boston Dynamics. Stretch will also offer Pick, a system that uses machine learning to unload up to 700 boxes per hour from pallets and onto conveyor belts. 

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Hyundai already has significant in-house robotics expertise. It debuted the MEX robot, which helps people with paraplegia walk, at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The following year, Hyundai launched VEX and CEX, which were wearable exoskeletons to help protect and strengthen workers. In 2019, Hyundai revealed a service robot that helps complete hotel-focused tasks. 

When the companies initially announced the acquisition, Hyundai said Boston Dynamics' expertise in 3D vision and manipulation using biped and quadruped robots aligned well with its expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) and human-robot interaction. 

Hyundai plans to expand its presence into the market for humanoid robots, developing robots for various tasks, including caregiving in hospitals. 

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