© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A visitor looks at his mobile device next to the robot Pepper during the “International Salon de la Haute Horlogerie” (SIHH) watch fair in Geneva, Switzerland Jan. 14, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
Written by Sam Nossi
TOKYO (Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp. is in talks to sell the Paris-based robotics business behind its Pepper android platform to Germany’s United Robotics Group, according to sources and documents reviewed by Reuters, limiting the business it once described as a key growth engine. . .
Two informed sources, who asked not to be identified, said talks are ongoing and plans may change. It is not clear whether SoftBank will retain a stake in the company, nor how much the deal will be worth.
United Robotics Group, backed by German robotics maker Hahn, became the main European distributor for struggling SoftBank robots Pepper and Nao in October.
United Robotics declined to comment. SoftBank said it remains committed to Pepper’s business.
Reuters reported in June https://www.reuters.com/technology/exclusive-softbank-shrinks-robotics-business-stops-pepper-production-sources-2021-06-28 that SoftBank had halted production of Pepper and cut jobs in its own robotics business. them worldwide. Nearly half of 330 employees have been cut in France, with operations dating back to the 2012 acquisition of start-up Aldebaran, which specifically built Pepper for SoftBank.
Additional employees have quit due to low morale, forcing SoftBank to post jobs to fill core positions, according to sources and a vacancy review.
According to its website, United Robotics has offices in Germany and Austria. According to the sources, the recently departed SoftBank employees were hired in areas such as sales by the company.
SoftBank, riven by the cultural divide between its European workforce and Japanese managers, has a dwindling stock of old Pepper units https://www.reuters.com/article/us-softbank-group-pepper-focus-idCAKBN2ER0JK and components Reuters reported earlier Approaching obsolescence.
In addition to selling Pepper and Nao, a tiny human-like robot, United Robotics is also marketing robots such as Sawyer, an industrial robot that can work alongside humans.
The restructuring comes as SoftBank focuses on selling third-party hardware after Pepper’s commercial failure.
The group established a parallel sales operation in Britain, reducing its reliance on the Paris-based business.
SoftBank engineers in France are working on a secret project to design a working robot called Plato, according to sources and documents seen by Reuters.
However, the sources said that managers in Japan have postponed the order for the robot. At the same time, SoftBank made deals to sell similar bots from outside companies, which reduced the commercial viability of its product.
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