China’s Alibaba, Foxconn invest US$236 million in SoftBank’s robotics business

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 June, 2015, 6:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 June, 2015, 5:39pm

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer Foxconn will each invest JPY14.5 billion (US$118.25 million) in SoftBank Robotics Holdings (SBRH), under a new deal announced Thursday. 

Japan-based SoftBank Corp will invest the same amount as each of the other two parties, in a bid to make its holding company a world leader in the robotics field, according to SoftBank chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son. 

One of the aims of the tie-up is to give the company’s Pepper robot more of a global reach, the company said. It unveiled the intelligent robot last year.

Upon completion of the deal, SoftBank will own 60 per cent of SBRH, with the other two parties taking stakes of 20 per cent apiece.

“I am very excited that we will partner with Alibaba and Foxconn, and challenge to go global with our robotics business, including Pepper, as a first step to realise our vision,” Son was quoted as saying.

“To bring more smiles to people around the world, we will aim to be the No.1 robotics company,” he added. 

READ MORE: Hong Kong-based technology firm set to offer Barbie-like robots by year's end

Alibaba Group founder and executive chairman Jack Ma, who oversaw the company’s record IPO in New York last summer, said robotics will play an increasingly prominent role in the data technology era.

“Robotics will become a critical field that catalyses technological breakthroughs in numerous sectors such as healthcare, public services, research and at home,” he said. 

“Our partnership with SoftBank and Foxconn combines the best hardware and software talent in the industry to pave the way for robotics research and development.”

Foxconn described the move as a strategic investment that dovetails with its future-oriented interests. 

“This is a strategic area of focus for our company as we continue to advance our capabilities in intelligent manufacturing,” said Terry Gou, CEO of Foxconn Technology Group.

Robots are set to play a bigger role in many factories across China as labour shortages and rising wages eat into companies’ bottom lines. 

READ MORE: China to have most robots by 2017 as car, electronics factories automate

At the same time, local authorities are being pressed to spur innovation to counter the economic slowdown that China is now facing after three decades of unchecked growth.

China overtook Japan to become the world's largest industrial robot market last year, with domestic sales surging 53 per cent from 2013, HSBC Global Research said earlier this week.

Provincial authorities in southern Guangdong province said earlier this year they will spend 943 billion yuan (US$151.88 billion) to replace human labour with robots by 2018. 

The province has for years been dubbed “the world’s workshop” because of its huge export manufacturing industry.

Cities in the province like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan started handing out annual subsidies of between 200 million and 500 million yuan from this year to manufacturers who install robots on assembly lines.