In the second quarter of 2017, there were many noteworthy automation transactions, but SoftBank Group Corp. led the way, with several investments worth a total of $10 billion.

Along with its $100 billion Vision Fund, SoftBank clearly intends to become the No. 1 robotics company in the world. Will its deals with companies as diverse as Didi Chuxing (maker of AI for self-driving cars) and Boston Dynamics (walking robots and YouTube favorites) be what it takes to get ahead?

Since SoftBank last year already acquired processor maker ARM Holdings and has raised its $4 billion stake in Nvidia Corp., the Japanese company obviously wants to be at the center of the automation ecosystem.

Also in Q2, Zurich-based ABB Group made some big moves, but unlike SoftBank, it stuck with what it knows — industrial automation. Chief among these moves was ABB’s $2 billion purchase of Bernecker & Rainer Industrial Automation GmbH. Austria-based B&R makes components for factory robotics and simulation software.

Automation transactions cross verticals

In the past year, investors have paid a lot of attention to artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, and robots for factories and warehouses. But venture capital firms and entrepreneurs are also aware of opportunities as diverse as food preparation (Blue Apron), enterprise security (Okta), and fashion (

Automation transactions included Hyundai Heavy Industries' breakup

Hyundai Heavy Industries broke into four companies to deal with slow ship demand.

In addition, the automation transactions of the past quarter included Myomo Inc., which raised $5 million for robotic braces to help people with upper-limb paralysis. Exoskeletons have lagged because of their high expense, battery weight and life, and until recently, lack of insurance coverage. It’s nice to see that efforts to refine such technologies are continuing.

Note that automation transactions don’t always involve consolidation. Hyundai Heavy Industries broke into four companies, including Hyundai Robotics Co., to deal with corporate debt and respond to the oil industry slowdown affecting shipbuilders. South Korea-based Hyundai Robotics will still get $90 million for research and development.

Looking back and ahead

For a full roundup of the past quarter’s automation transactions, download our Q2 report. We delve into greater detail on SoftBank’s strategy, including its acquisition of YouTube sensation Boston Dynamics.

We also look at statistics that contradict the common assumption that growth in robotics and jobs are mutually exclusive. The Association for Advancing Automation shares insights on where adoption is still growing, as well as how long we can expect such expansion to be sustained.

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