Hyundai Motor Company has inked a $1.1 billion deal to acquire a controlling stake in Boston Dynamics, the robotics company you probably know as the maker of those unsettling four-legged robots that terrify and delight YouTube browsers. (And which you can buy for just shy of $75,000—or more for enterprise versions.) Those quadrupeds as a whole likely have little to do with Hyundai Motor’s automotive aspirations, but you can bet the automaker is after the robots’ software.
You see, Boston Dynamics long ago mastered the creation of walking, running, leaping, and all-around horrifying legged robots. It also works on autonomy—with those robots possessing autonomous capabilities not unlike, well, self-driving cars or factory vehicles. That AI capability looms large in Hyundai’s eyes.
Whereas self-driving cars and trucks don’t feature in any nightmare-inspiring YouTube videos that we know of, in which they’re bearing down on humans less intelligent or dexterous than themselves, Hyundai and a bevy of other automakers are hoping to deliver such vehicles to non-terrified customers in the coming years, as well as lean on them for use in factory settings. Boston Dynamics’ programming know-how and experience in the field could prove invaluable to Hyundai in making a Sonata that can pick your drunk self up from the bar—whenever you can go to those again, of course—and shuttle you home safely sans driver, or even to produce automated forklifts and the like. Boston Dynamics already has a “mobile robot for warehouses” coming for 2021.
Hyundai’s cost to acquire that know-how ain’t cheap. Its $1.1 billion outlay gets it an 80-percent stake in Boston Dynamics, while the outfit’s current suitor, Softbank, will retain 20 percent. (Softbank purchased the outfit from Google’s parent company Alphabet some years ago.) Will Hyundai play around with legged vehicles, though? We doubt it, even though Hyundai did reveal a few bizarre walking, four-legged mobility concepts in 2019. It was notably less unsettling than Boston Dynamics’s Spot.