SoftBank Downsizes Robot Business, Stops Pepper Production

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SoftBank Group Corp is cutting staff in its global robotics business and halting production of its Pepper robot as the company scales back its ambitions in the industry.

The pullback reflects the weakening of CEO Masayoshi Son’s plan to make SoftBank the leader in robotics and create human-like machines that could serve customers and even babysit children.

SoftBank Robotics launched Pepper in 2014, becoming the face of the conglomerate and embodying Son’s optimistic vision of a technology-driven future as it builds its global business.

Pepper, built by Foxconn in China, was supposed to help ease labor shortages but struggled to find a global customer base, producing only 27,000 units, a measly figure in all areas.

As part of the job cuts, SoftBank plans to cut about half of its 330 jobs in France in September.

Half of the staff have already been laid off from smaller sales offices in the U.S. and U.K., while staff in Japan have been moved out of the robotics business.

Culture conflicts between the French company and Tokyo management hampered the robot’s development, and its dismal sales were caused by the product’s limited functionality and unreliability.

SoftBank, which has struggled to boost Pepper sales even as it placed the robot in its mobile phone business, has shifted its focus to products such as Whiz cleaning robots, and the French business has been increasingly sidelined.

SoftBank retains its niche in robotics and automation technology, owns SB Logistics and has stakes in robotics firm Berkshire Hathaway and warehouse robotics company AutoStore.

For more information, read the original story in Reuters.

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