On Friday, SoftBank said it had struck a deal to acquire Boston Dynamics from Alphabet, the parent company of Google, which had bought the robotics company in 2013 but decided last year to put it up for sale. "Boston Dynamics are the clear technology leaders in advanced dynamic robots," SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son said in a statement. And it makes some sense culturally, too: As its population ages, Japan has turned increasingly to robots to make up for workers who are leaving the labor pool. In 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe predicted that Japan's robot market will be worth $21 billion by 2020.
It will run software developed by Alibaba's YunOS division to connect with other smart devices, the company said. Alibaba in its announcement said the car will use the company's own e-commerce platform to deliver such services as finding parking spaces, locating gas stations or making restaurant reservations. Those predictive software aspects make auto developers think Alibaba has entered the auto space with an eye toward autonomous vehicles. The YunOS software, industry analysts say, is Alibaba's entry point to allow its cars to communicate with other vehicles and nearby businesses, making a strong step toward connected and autonomous vehicles.