Exclusive SoftBank in talks to sell French robotics business to Germany’s United Robotics

A visitor looks at his mobile device next to the robot Pepper during the “International Salon de la Haute Horlogerie” (SIHH) in Geneva, Switzerland, January 14, 2019. REUTERS / Denis Balibouse / File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) – SoftBank Group is in talks to sell the Paris-based robotics business behind its Pepper Android platform to Germany’s United Robotics Group, which it previously described as a banned business, according to sources and documents seen by Reuters. The main growth engine.

Two well-informed sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said talks were ongoing and plans might change. It is not clear whether SoftBank will retain a stake in the company and how much the deal will be worth.

United Robotics Group, backed by German robot maker Hahn, became the most important European distributor of SoftBank (9984.T) robots battling Pepper and Nao robots in October.

United Robotics declined to comment. SoftBank said it remains committed to Pepper’s business.

Reuters reported in June that SoftBank had halted manufacturing of Pepper and cut jobs in its robotics business worldwide. Almost half of the 330 jobs have been cut in France, with activities dating back to the 2012 acquisition of startup Aldebaran, which Pepper created specifically for SoftBank.

According to sources and job reviews, more employees have quit due to poor work ethics, forcing SoftBank to post job vacancies to fill key positions.

According to its website, United Robotics has offices in Germany and Austria. According to the sources, the retired SoftBank employees were recently hired by the company in areas such as sales.

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Reuters previously reported that SoftBank, torn by the cultural divide between its European workforce and Japanese managers, has a dwindling inventory of Pepper’s aging units and components.

In addition to Pepper and Nao, a tiny human-like robot, United Robotics also markets robots such as Sawyer, an industrial robot that can work with people.

The reorganization comes as SoftBank focuses on selling third-party hardware after Pepper’s business failure.

The group established a parallel sales office in Great Britain, reducing its dependence on Parisian business.

According to sources and documents seen by Reuters, SoftBank engineers in France are working on a secret project to develop a service bot called Plato.

However, the sources said that managers in Japan have postponed the order for the robot. At the same time, SoftBank was doing business selling similar bots from outside companies, which reduced the commercial viability of its product.

(Sam Nossi reports). Editing by David Dolan and Jerry Doyle

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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