Business / Tech

SoftBank takes stake in Roomba-maker iRobot as part of tech grab: sources

Bloomberg, Kyodo

SoftBank has taken a stake in Roomba-maker iRobot, people familiar with the matter said, as the Japanese company builds its holdings in robotics firms.

SoftBank Group Corp. has built a less than 5 percent stake in iRobot Corp., below the amount that would require a regulatory disclosure in the U.S., the people said, asking not to be identified because the purchase was private. The Bedford, Massachusetts-based technology company has a market value of $2.4 billion.

Shares in iRobot rose 22 percent in late trading in New York. Representatives for SoftBank and iRobot declined to comment.

SoftBank, which has more than $93 billion (about ¥10 trillion) in commitments so far for its technology-focused Vision Fund, has been snapping up robotics firms this year. In June, SoftBank agreed to buy Boston Dynamics from Alphabet Inc. for an undisclosed sum. Earlier this month, the Vision Fund led a $114 million investment in San Diego-based artificial-intelligence firm Brain Corp., which develops self-driving technology for robots.

It’s unclear whether the iRobot investment will be held by SoftBank or the Vision Fund.

iRobot was founded about 27 years ago by Massachusetts Institute of Technology robotics engineers who pioneered the market for the self-propelled devices that vacuum and wash floors. Last year the company sold its robotic mine-detection and bomb-disposal business to focus on its consumer products, which accounted for 99 percent of 2016 revenue.

The Vision Fund, which is targeting $100 billion in total commitments, is getting contributions from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Apple Inc. and other large, institutional backers and tech companies.

IRobot also reported second quarter financial results after the close of trading in New York Tuesday. Revenue rose 23 percent to $183.1 million, exceeding analyst estimates, while net income climbed to $7.9 million.

SoftBank is also pushing to take a multibillion dollar stake in Uber Technologies Inc., the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

According to the report, the sources said SoftBank’s talks with Uber are preliminary and any deal would likely be put on ice until the ride-sharing firm hires a new chief executive, which is not expected for weeks.

SoftBank has already invested in three ride-sharing companies in Asia — Didi Chuxing Technology Co. in China, Ola in India and Grab Taxi Holdings Pte. in Singapore, according to the report.