SoftBank Group Corp. agreed to spend US$2.8 billion to acquire a 40% stake in the Norwegian warehouse automation company AutoStore, marking another big bet by a Japanese conglomerate on robotics.
AutoStore is controlled by Thomas H. Lee Partners LP, while EQT AB, another private equity firm in Sweden, holds a minority stake. The two companies said on Monday that the transaction valued the company at $7.7 billion, including debt.
According to the “Wall Street Journal”
SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son has been betting huge bets on artificial intelligence and Internet-connected devices for many years. The famous prediction in 2017 was that within 30 years, there will be more super-intelligent robots than humans.
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AutoStore’s technology allows the warehouse to be almost completely operated by robots. The company was founded in 1996 and pioneered the dense storage and access system that is widely used today.
It uses giant cubes filled with trash cans. Robots (rather than humans) can go over the top of the cube, dig out the trash can, and then transport it to the site where workers sort orders. It is particularly useful in smaller warehouses, which have proliferated in a race to speed up the delivery of goods to urban consumers.
The company is expected to be profitable in 2021, which has benefited from the way manufacturers accept technology to reduce costs, and e-commerce touches more parts of daily life (whether it is buying clothes, groceries or daily necessities). According to the company’s website, AutoStore’s customers include John Deere, Gucci and Texas Instruments Inc.
SoftBank has been building its investment network in global e-commerce and related supply chains. It already owns shares in some of the world’s largest e-commerce companies, including China’s Alibaba Group Holdings Co., Ltd. and South Korea’s Coupang Inc.
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Thomas Lee (Thomas H. EQT Group acquired AutoStore in 2017.
According to the transaction, Thomas Lee Lee will continue to serve as the majority shareholder and will serve on the company’s board of directors along with SoftBank and EQT.