SoftBank Launches Robot Venture With Alibaba, Foxconn

Japan’s SoftBank Corp said on Thursday it is setting up a joint venture with Chinese online shopping giant Alibaba and electronics supplier Foxconn Technology to sell its human-like robot Pepper around the world.The robots – which the mobile phone and Internet conglomerate envisions serving as baby-sitters, medical workers or even party companions – would go on sale to general consumers from Saturday for JPY 198,000 (roughly Rs. 1.02 lakh) each plus monthly fees and insurance, the companies said in a joint statement.

The waist-high robot, which is already used in stores including SoftBank’s mobile phone shops, can learn and express human emotions, according to the Japanese firm.

Foxconn already produces Pepper but a general sale, especially with the involvement of Alibaba, will require greater investment, according to some analysts.

SoftBank said it would have a 60 percent stake in the joint venture, with Alibaba and Taiwan-based Foxconn each spending JPY 14.5 billion (roughly Rs. 752 crores) for 20 percent stakes.

SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said the partnership was a first step to becoming a top robotics business.

“We will aim to be the No.1 robotics company,” he said.

Earlier this month, Foxconn was revealed to be in talks to manufacture Apple’s iPhone in India by government officials, in a move that could lower prices in the world’s No.3 smartphone market where the US firm trails Samsung Electronics and local players.

India could help Foxconn mitigate accelerating wage inflation in China, where it makes the majority of iPhones, and base production sites closer to markets where its key clients want to grow.

Lower production costs could also help Foxconn keep hold of Apple orders amid intensifying competition with nimble manufacturing rivals such as Quanta Computer.