Softbank Robotics Europe, the group behind two of the extra recognizable robots, is shedding 40% of its workforce. On July 7, the developer of the well-known Nao and Pepper robots will cut back its Paris-based workforce that had 330 staff as of March 2021.
The Robotic Report confirmed this information, which was first reported by French media outlet Le Journal du Internet. Softbank Robotics Europe misplaced $38 million in its fiscal 2019-2020 yr and greater than $119 million over the past three years, in accordance with Le Journal du Internet.
Regardless of their worldwide fame, the Nao and Pepper robots by no means achieved monetary success. Many of the 27,000 Nao and Pepper robots had been offered in Japan, which is extra accepting of humanoid robots than Europe, the US and different components of the world. Whereas promoting that many robots is definitely an achievement, worth and capabilities had been typically points, particularly for Pepper, which prices $30,000 within the U.S.
A Softbank Robotics Europe worker, who wished to stay nameless, instructed The Robotic Report “the marketplace for Nao and Pepper is smaller than we anticipated.” The supply added that it’s “not sustainable to have this many staff in Paris primarily based on the financial points we face.”
Softbank Robotics Europe was fashioned after mum or dad firm Softbank acquired Aldebaran Robotics for $100 million a couple of decade in the past.
Softbank Robotics Europe despatched this public assertion to The Robotic Report:
“Since 2012 SoftBank Robotics Group, a subsidiary of SoftBank, has invested in Humanoid Robotics and intends to maintain Pepper & NAO robots enterprise shifting ahead.
“Within the mild of the pandemic and financial slowdown, SoftBank Robotics Europe is contemplating a big workforce optimization plan. Our EMEA HQ situated in Paris is dwelling to about 330 staff, as of March 2021.
“On this tough time, we wish to thank all our staff for his or her efforts in creating the very best humanoids on the planet, and can make the very best efforts to make sure honest departure choices with labor representatives and native session our bodies in France. The present spherical of job cuts ought to be accomplished by the top of 2021.
“The restructuring mission has as certainly one of its targets to proceed to supply product gross sales, providers assist and upkeep for Pepper and NAO robots.
“We additionally wish to thank our clients, companions and suppliers for his or her belief in our Pepper & NAO merchandise.
“SoftBank Robotics Europe will proceed to make important investments in next-generation robots to serve our clients and companions.”
Whereas this subsequent data isn’t shocking, it’s affirmation from a Softbank insider. The supply mentioned each Softbank Robotics Europe and Softbank Robotics America received’t be specializing in Nao and Pepper as a lot going ahead.
“There can be much less funding in emotional humanoids, and extra give attention to industrial merchandise akin to Whiz,” the supply mentioned. The Whiz autonomous flooring cleansing robotic first went on sale in early 2019 as gross sales of Pepper lagged.
That is half of a bigger shift in technique for Softbank’s robotics efforts. Softbank Robotics America, for instance, not too long ago introduced that Nao and Pepper can be obtainable within the U.S. solely by way of San Francisco-based RobotLAB, an organization that has targeted on academic robots for years. Whereas different media retailers have referred to this as Softbank persevering with to increase, it’s really the reverse. The corporate is divesting from its direct channel.
Mum or dad firm Softbank will preserve the IP for each Nao and Pepper, nevertheless it’s seeking to outsource a lot of the gross sales, service, and assist work for these robots as they don’t generate important income. The supply instructed The Robotic Report offers much like the RobotLAB partnership are being explored for Nao and Pepper in different components of the world.
“Pepper launched in 2014, however Whiz is our flagship robotic now,” the supply mentioned. “Pepper will stay an icon in robotics, however extra enterprise efforts can be put into Whiz going ahead.”
It’s been clear for some time that Nao and Pepper weren’t going to be a significant a part of Softbank’s robotics technique going ahead. In January 2021, for instance, Softbank Group introduced that Softbank Robotics will collectively develop robots with Japanese electronics maker Iris Ohyama. The three way partnership, known as Iris Robotics, highlighted two merchandise which are evolutions of current merchandise. The primary product is a brand new tackle Softbank’s Whiz cleansing robotic known as the “Whiz i Iris Version.” The second product is an up to date model of Bear Robotics’ flagship robotic, Servi.
As we identified on the time Iris Robotics was introduced, neither Nao or Pepper gave the impression to be a part of the deal. Now we all know why.
Softbank has made different modifications to its robotics technique, most notably offloading 80% of its possession stake in Boston Dynamics to Hyundai for $880 million. It additionally paid $2.eight billion for a 40% possession stake in AutoStore, a number one developer of automated storage and retrieval techniques (AS/RS). The logistics market is booming automation-wise, and now Softbank is tied up with a significant participant. AutoStore at present has a worldwide blue-chip buyer base with greater than 600 installations and 20,000 robots throughout 35 nations.
Softbank additionally not too long ago partnered with Bear Robotics on serving and bussing robots. Based in 2017, Bear Robotics’ robots function in eating places, company campuses, ghost kitchens, senior care services, and casinos throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. Softbank is an investor in Bear Robotics.
This text was first printed in The Robotic Report.
Steve Crowe is Editorial Director, Robotics, WTWH Media, and co-chair of the Robotics Summit & Expo