SoftBank Group Corp. offered to buy all shares in robot maker Berkshire Grey Inc. it doesn’t already own in a $218 million deal, in a foray into logistics automation after halting almost all investment activity for months.
The global tech investor has sent a non-binding letter of interest, offering to buy Berkshire shares for $1.30 a piece, according to a filing to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. SoftBank currently has a 28.1% stake in the Delaware-based maker of robots used to pack and ship products in e-commerce warehouses. Berkshire had a little more than 233 million common shares outstanding at the time of the
SoftBank seeks to acquire 100% of the outstanding capital stock of Berkshire through a share purchase, tender offer, merger or other means, the filing said. The offer is preliminary and remains subject to due diligence and approval from SoftBank’s investment committee, it said.
“SoftBank greatly admires Berkshire and believes that a partnership with SoftBank will position Berkshire for long-term success,” the Japanese
investor said in a letter.
Founder Masayoshi Son has tried several high-profile forays into robotics. SoftBank unveiled the original $1,600 humanoid robot Pepper in 2014, but demand never lived up to the Japanese company’s high expectations. In 2017, SoftBank bought Boston Dynamics Inc. from Google to try to commercialize the startup’s two- and four-legged machines. It ultimately sold control of the business to Hyundai Motor group.
Tech firms around the world are now embracing SoftBank’s early focus on artificial intelligence, chasing different ways to apply it to generate content. Alphabet Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Chinese firms from Baidu Inc. to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. are racing to harness artificial intelligence to drive human-like responses from chatbots, while investors race to buy into the smartest AI tools to create texts and pictures. SoftBank affiliate Z Holdings Corp. operates Google’s Japanese search engine rival Yahoo Japan.
SoftBank, which manages the world’s largest venture capital funds devoted to artificial intelligence, doesn’t have an investment in ChatGPT creator OpenAI Inc. That kind of application is not necessarily the most advanced technology of its kind, just one of a subset of mass applications, Navneet Govil, executive managing partner at SoftBank Global Advisers, said earlier this week.
SoftBank has posted a net loss of 783 billion yen ($5.9 billion) for the December 2022 quarter. The biggest drag was the Vision Fund investment arm, which lost about $5 billion in its fourth straight quarter of losses after deploying billions of dollars into startups whose valuations declined.