by Sam Nussey
TOKYO (Reuters) – The SoftBank Group is cutting jobs in its global robotics business and has stopped producing its Pepper robot, according to sources and documents analyzed by Reuters, as the conglomerate reduces its ambitions in the sector.
Production of the humanoid Pepper, touted as the first robot with “one heart,” was halted last year, according to three sources familiar with the matter and the documents. It would be expensive to restart production, two sources said.
Assembled by Foxconn in China, Pepper was created to help cover the labor shortage, but it had difficulty finding a global customer base. Only 27,000 units were produced, said one of the sources.
The retreat reflects the undermining of Chief Executive Masayoshi Son’s plan to make SoftBank the leader in the robotics industry, producing human-like machines that could serve customers and care for children.
In that context, SoftBank plans to eliminate about half of its 330 positions in France in September, according to four sources and documents, cutting into the historic heart of the business, whose origins lie in SoftBank’s 2012 acquisition of French robotics firm Aldebaran.
Half the staff has already been cut from smaller sales operations in the US and UK, three of the sources said, with employees in Japan transferred from the robotics business.
In France, negotiations on layoffs are ongoing and final numbers have not been decided, said a SoftBank spokesman. Employees were also laid off in the US and UK and relocated to Japan, the spokesman said.
SoftBank “will continue to make significant investments in next-generation robots to serve our customers and partners,” the French robotics company said in a statement.
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