Toyota Motor is close to a deal to acquire two robot makers from Google's parent company Alphabet, sources said on Wednesday. The two companies are Boston Dynamics of the U.S. and Schaft, a venture set up by a graduate of the University of Tokyo. The Japanese automaker plans to make the purchase through Toyota Research Institute, a unit established in Silicon Valley in January to develop artificial intelligence. Toyota is expected to use part of TRI's US$1 billion five-year research and development budget to finance the acquisition.
Boston Dynamics has been developing advanced biped and quadruped robots with financial help from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, under the U.S. Department of Defense. Regarding Schaft, a software analyst said its strength lies in developing software for controlling two-legged robots.
Toyota is expected to welcome some 300 employees from the two companies, hoping they can help the carmaker develop robots for use in everyday life. Toyota sees these types of robots as a key driver of its future growth. It also intends to adopt the robot makers' engineering successes to improve its autonomous driving technology.
"Objectively speaking, Google is ahead [of us] in artificial intelligence," a Toyota representative said. "We need to work faster and harder in order to be competitive."
Toyota has welcomed Gill Pratt, a former DARPA member to lead TRI. It hopes the research unit, nestled in the world's premier cluster of software engineers, helps it revamp its robotics unit.
TRI has been actively luring engineers from American information technology companies, including Google, and from research institutes. It is also rapidly buying up companies primarily to acquire talent rather than assets or product lines.
This kind of acquiring is also heating up in Japan. A software analyst at a public university in Greater Tokyo has been contacted by Tesla Motors, an American electric vehicle start-up, and Toyota.
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