UPDATE March 27, 2012: According to a forum message by Bastien Parent, head of communication at Aldebaran Robotics,the Financial Times report on Aldebaran's sale contains incorrect information. It's not clear what part of the report is incorrect. Parent wrote that when Aldebaran has concrete things to report, it will do so, "but this is not the case today."
In news that will send a ripple of excitement through the robotics community, French robot maker Aldebaran has reportedly sold a majority stake in the business for about US $100 million.
The Financial Timesreports that the buyer, Japan's Softbank, will provide the financial backing Aldebaran needs to "bring robots into the mainstream consumer market." From the FT story:
Softbank is understood to have paid about $100m for a more than 80 per cent stake in the business, and will invest another $40m to $50m to accelerate development. Softbank bought out existing shareholders in the company, including Intel Capital, CDC Innovation, iSource and Crédit Agricole Private Equity. Intel Capital had only recently become an investor, in a $13m fundraising round last summer.
Although Softbank has not previously been involved in robotics, Masayoshi Son, the company’s chief executive, is interested in addressing a number of societal problems, for example backing the development of green energy in Japan. Securing care for an ageing population is in line with this.
This is huge news for Aldebaran, famous for its advanced humanoid robots, but an even bigger deal for the robotics field, which has long been trying to prove to investors that there's money to be made in robots. Though industrial robotics is a multibillion dollar sector, consumer and service robotics remains relatively small markets. Yes, there's been some VC activity, but nothing compared to other industries. Hopefully the Aldebaran deal will show investors that robots can not only be cool but profitable too.
Erico Guizzo is the Director of Digital Innovation at IEEE Spectrum, and cofounder of the IEEE Robots Guide, an award-winning interactive site about robotics. He oversees the operation, integration, and new feature development for all digital properties and platforms, including the Spectrum website, newsletters, CMS, editorial workflow systems, and analytics and AI tools. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.