EXCLUSIVE SoftBank shrinks robotics business, stops Pepper production- sources

TOKYO, Jun 28 (Reuters) – SoftBank Group Corp (9984.T) is cutting jobs in its robotic business worldwide and has stopped producing its Pepper robot, according to sources and documents reviewed by Reuters, as the conference sets its sights on the industry.

The production of the humane Pepper, called the first “heart-shaped” robot, was discontinued last year, according to three familiar sources. It could be costly to restart a product, say two sources.

Built by Foxconn (2317.TW) in China, Pepper was intended to help alleviate staff shortages but struggled to gain a global customer base. Only 27,000 were produced, according to one source.

The pull back shows the failure of Chief Executive Masayoshi Son’s plan to make SoftBank a leader in the robotics industry, producing human-like machines that can help customers and children.

As part of the retrenchment, SoftBank plans to lay off about half of its 330 employees in France in September, according to four sources and documents, from the heart of the business history, the source of the 2012 SoftBank acquisition by French robotics company Aldebaran.

Half of the workforce has already been laid off from small retail jobs in the United States and Britain, say three sources, and Japanese workers have also been fired from the robotics business. All sources declined to be named as they were not allowed to speak to the media.
In France, retrenchment negotiations are ongoing and final numbers have not been determined, a SoftBank spokesman said. Workers have also been laid off in the U.S. In the UK they were also distributed in Japan, said a spokesman for the organization, who declined to offer any more deals.

SoftBank “will continue to make significant money from future-generation robots to serve our customers and partners,” the French robotics business said in a statement.
Unemployment in France was first reported by French business website Le Journal du Net. Extensive reconstruction was first reported by Reuters.

CULTURES ARE CLOSED

SoftBank Robotic introduced Pepper in the chest in 2014 and became the face of the mix, embracing the Son’s optimistic vision for a strong technological future as it built its overseas investment operations.

In the aftermath of the scandal, a cultural conflict between a French business and Tokyo officials has damaged the growth of the robot and its sale has contributed to limited performance and unreliability, three sources said.

SoftBank, which has promoted Pepper’s sales by placing a robot in its mobile stores, has shifted its focus to products such as the Whiz robot cleaner. French business was increasingly on the sidelines, three sources said.

The conglomerate has been selling assets including most of its numbers at the robotic company Boston Dynamics as Son focuses heavily on investing in the Vision Fund.

The 63-year-old billionaire, who has made a fortune selling mobile phone contracts and investing in startups, describes SoftBank as “a major provider of data conversion.”

SoftBank maintains the introduction of robotics and automated technology, owning SB Logistics and poles at the Berkshire Gray robotics company and the robust AutoStore robots.

Reports Sam Nussey. Edited by Gerry Doyle and Carmel Crimmins

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