SoftBank said to be in talks to sell French robotics business to United Robotics

Photo: SoftBank

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.

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.

United Robotics declined to comment. SoftBank has said it remains committed to the Pepper business.

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.

United Robotics has offices in Germany and Austria, according to its website. Recently departed SoftBank staff in areas such as sales have been hired by the company, according to the sources.

SoftBank, which is riven by a culture divide between its European workforce and Japanese managers, has a dwindling stock of aging Pepper units and components approaching obsolescence, Reuters reported previously.

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.

The conglomerate has created a parallel sales operation in Britain, reducing its reliance on the Paris-based business.

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.

Reuters

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

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  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.