SoftBank shrinks robotics business, stops Pepper production

SoftBank Group Corp is slashing jobs at its global robotics business. It has stopped producing its Pepper robot, as the conglomerate downgrades its industry ambitions. Production of the humanoid Pepper, touted as the first robot with “a heart”, was stopped last year. It would be costly to restart production, according to the sources.

Foxconn in China built this. Pepper was meant to help labor shortages but struggled to find a global customer base. Only 27,000 were produced. This pullback reflects the fading of Chief Executive Masayoshi Son’s plan to make SoftBank the leader in the robotics industry. They had plans such as producing human-like machines that could serve customers and to babysit kids.

SoftBank has planned to eliminate about half of its 330 staff positions in France because of the retrenchment. Half of the staff has already been cut from smaller sales operations in the United States and Britain, with employees in Japan redeployed from the robotics business. A SoftBank spokesperson said that in France, negotiations on layoffs are ongoing with final numbers that are not decided. The spokesperson also added that the staff have also been laid off in the U.S. and UK and redeployed in Japan.

The French robotics business gave a statement that the SoftBank will continue to make significant investments in next-generation robots to serve their customers and partners. French business website Le Journal du Net were the first to report the job cuts.

SoftBank has shifted focus to products such as cleaning robot Whiz. The conglomerate has been selling assets including the majority of its stake in robotics firm Boston Dynamics as Son focuses more on investing through the Vision Fund. SoftBank retains exposure to robotics and automation technology, owning SB Logistics and with stakes in robotics firm Berkshire Grey and warehouse robotics firm AutoStore.

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