SoftBank Group Corp is in talks to sell the Paris-based robotics business behind the Pepper android to Germany’s United Robotics Group, pulling back a business it had regarded as a major growth driver.
The conversations are still ongoing, and plans may alter, according to two persons familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified because they are not allowed to speak to the media. It’s unclear whether SoftBank will keep a share in the company or how much the transaction will cost.
In October, United Robotics Group, sponsored by German industrial robot manufacturer Hahn, was named the European master distributor for SoftBank’s ailing Pepper and Nao robots.
United Robotics declined to comment. SoftBank has said it remains committed to the Pepper business.
In June, Reuters reported that SoftBank had halted manufacturing of Pepper and cut workers throughout its robotics division internationally. In France, where operations stretch back to the 2012 acquisition of start-up Aldebaran, which custom-designed Pepper for SoftBank, over half of the 330 staff positions were slashed.
SoftBank was forced to offer openings to cover critical functions after more employees resigned due to low morale.
According to its website, United Robotics has offices in Germany and Austria. SoftBank has hired recently left SoftBank employees in sectors such as sales.
SoftBank has a diminishing stock of outdated Pepper units and components approaching obsolescence due to a cultural difference between its European workers and Japanese bosses.
United Robotics sells robots including Sawyer, an industrial robot that can work with people, in addition to Pepper and Nao, a miniature humanoid robot.
Following the commercial failure of Pepper, SoftBank is concentrating on selling third-party devices.
The conglomerate has set up a parallel sales operation in the United Kingdom to reduce its dependency on the Paris-based company.
SoftBank engineers in France are working on a top-secret project to create Plato, a serving robot.
Managers in Japan, on the other hand, have held off ordering the robot, according to the sources. At the same time, SoftBank has made deals to sell similar robots from outside companies, putting its own product’s commercial viability in jeopardy.