Thursday, August 11, 2022

SoftBank considering to sell French robotics business to United Robotics

SoftBank Group Corp is in talks to sell the Paris-based robotics business behind its Pepper android to Germany’s United Robotics Group, according to sources and documents reviewed by Reuters, scaling back a business it once touted as a major growth driver.

The talks are ongoing and plans could change, said two sources familiar with the matter, who declined to be named as they are not permitted to speak to the media. It is not clear whether SoftBank will retain a stake in the business, nor how much the deal would be worth.

United Robotics Group, which is backed by German industrial robot maker Hahn, became the European master distributor for SoftBank’s  struggling Pepper and Nao robots in October.

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Reuters reported in June that SoftBank had stopped production of Pepper and slashed jobs at its robotics business globally. Roughly half of 330 staff positions were cut in France, where operations date back to the 2012 acquisition of start-up Aldebaran, which custom-designed Pepper for SoftBank.

Additional staff have quit because of low morale, forcing SoftBank to advertise positions to fill core functions, according to the sources and a review of job postings.

In addition to selling Pepper and Nao, a small humanoid robot, United Robotics also markets robots like Sawyer, an industrial robot that can operate alongside humans.

The restructuring comes as SoftBank focuses on selling third party hardware following the commercial failure of Pepper.

SoftBank engineers in France have been working on a secret project to design a serving robot called Plato, according to the sources and documents reviewed by Reuters.

However, managers in Japan have put off ordering the robot, the sources said. At the same time, SoftBank has struck deals to sell similar robots from outside firms, diminishing the commercial viability of its own product.

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