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Remember the 1980s movie Brewster’s Millions, in which a minor league baseball pitcher (played by Richard Pryor) must spend $30 million in 30 days to inherit $300 million? Pryor goes on an epic spending spree for a bigger payoff down the road.
One of the world’s biggest public companies is making that film look like a weekend in the Hamptons. Japan’s SoftBank Group, led by its indefatigable CEO Masayoshi Son, is shooting to invest $100 billion over the next five years toward what the company calls the information revolution.
The newly-created SoftBank Vision Fund, with a handful of key investors, appears ready to almost single-handedly hack the technology revolution. Announced only last year, the fund had its first major close in May with $93 billion in committed capital. The rest of the money is expected to be raised this year.
The fund is unprecedented. Data firm CB Insights notes that the SoftBank Vision Fund, if and when it hits the $100 billion mark, will equal the total amount that VC-backed companies received in all of 2016—$100.8 billion across 8,372 deals globally.
The money will go toward both billion-dollar corporations and startups, with a minimum $100 million buy-in. The focus is on core technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of Things.
Aside from being Japan’s richest man, Son is also a futurist who has predicted the singularity, the moment in time when machines will become smarter than humans and technology will progress exponentially. Son pegs the date as 2047. He appears to be hedging that bet in the biggest way possible.
Show Me the Money
Ostensibly a telecommunications company, SoftBank Group was founded in 1981 and started investing in internet technologies by the mid-1990s. Son infamously lost about $70 billion of his own fortune after the dot-com bubble burst around 2001. The company itself has a market cap of nearly $90 billion today, about half of where it was during the heydays of the internet boom.
The ups and downs did nothing to slake the company’s thirst for technology. It has made nine acquisitions and more than 130 investments since 1995. In 2017 alone, SoftBank has poured billions into nearly 30 companies and acquired three others. Some of those investments are being transferred to the massive SoftBank Vision Fund.
SoftBank is not going it alone with the new fund. More than half of the money—$60 billion—comes via the Middle East through Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund ($45 billion) and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company ($15 billion). Other players at the table include Apple, Qualcomm, Sharp, Foxconn, and Oracle.
During a company conference in August, Son notes the SoftBank Vision Fund is not just about making money. “We don’t just want to be an investor just for the money game,” he says through a translator. “We want to make the information revolution. To do the information revolution, you can’t do it by yourself; you need a lot of synergy.”
Off to the Races
The fund has wasted little time creating that synergy. In July, its first official investment, not surprisingly, went to a company that specializes in artificial intelligence for robots—Brain Corp. The San Diego-based startup uses AI to turn manual machines into self-driving robots that navigate their environments autonomously. The first commercial application appears to be a really smart commercial-grade version that crosses a Roomba and Zamboni.
A second investment in July was a bit more surprising. SoftBank and its fund partners led a $200 million mega-round for Plenty, an agricultural tech company that promises to reshape farming by going vertical. Using IoT sensors and machine learning, Plenty claims its urban vertical farms can produce 350 times more vegetables than a conventional farm using 1 percent of the water.
The spending spree continued into August.
The SoftBank Vision Fund led a $1.1 billion investment into a little-known biotechnology company called Roivant Sciences that goes dumpster diving for abandoned drugs and then creates subsidiaries around each therapy. For example, Axovant Sciences is devoted to neurology while Urovant focuses on urology. TechCrunch reports that Roivant is also creating a tech-focused subsidiary, called Datavant, that will use AI for drug discovery and other healthcare initiatives, such as designing clinical trials.
The AI angle may partly explain SoftBank’s interest in backing the biggest private placement in healthcare to date.
Also in August, SoftBank Vision Fund led a mix of $2.5 billion in primary and secondary capital investments into India’s largest private company in what was touted as the largest single investment in a private Indian company. Flipkart is an e-commerce company in the mold of Amazon.
The fund tacked on a $250 million investment round in August to Kabbage, an Atlanta-based startup in the alt-lending sector for small businesses. It ended big with a $4.4 billion investment into a co-working company called WeWork.
Betterment of Humanity
And those investments only include companies that SoftBank Vision Fund has backed directly.
SoftBank the company will offer—or has already turned over—previous investments to the Vision Fund in more than a half-dozen companies. Those assets include its shares in Nvidia, which produces chips for AI applications, and its first serious foray into autonomous driving with Nauto, a California startup that uses AI and high-tech cameras to retrofit vehicles to improve driving safety. The more miles the AI logs, the more it learns about safe and unsafe driving behaviors.
Other recent acquisitions, such as Boston Dynamics, a well-known US robotics company owned briefly by Google’s parent company Alphabet, will remain under the SoftBank Group umbrella for now.
This spending spree begs the question: What is the overall vision behind the SoftBank’s relentless pursuit of technology companies? A spokesperson for SoftBank told Singularity Hub that the “common thread among all of these companies is that they are creating the foundational platforms for the next stage of the information revolution.All of the companies, he adds, share SoftBank’s criteria of working toward “the betterment of humanity.”
While the SoftBank portfolio is diverse, from agtech to fintech to biotech, it’s obvious that SoftBank is betting on technologies that will connect the world in new and amazing ways. For instance, it wrote a $1 billion check last year in support of OneWeb, which aims to launch 900 satellites to bring internet to everyone on the planet. (It will also be turned over to the SoftBank Vision Fund.)
SoftBank also led a half-billion equity investment round earlier this year in a UK company called Improbable, which employs cloud-based distributed computing to create virtual worlds for gaming. The next step for the company is massive simulations of the real world that supports simultaneous users who can experience the same environment together(and another candidate for the SoftBank Vision Fund.)
Even something as seemingly low-tech as WeWork, which provides a desk or office in locations around the world, points toward a more connected planet.
In the end, the singularity is about bringing humanity together through technology. No one said it would be easy—or cheap.
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PITTSBURGH, PA – June 21, 2017 – RE2 Robotics announced today that the Company was selected by the Air Force to develop a drop-in robotic system to rapidly convert a variety of traditionally manned aircraft to robotically piloted, autonomous aircraft under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This robotic system, named “Common Aircraft Retrofit for Novel Autonomous Control” (CARNAC), will operate the aircraft similarly to a human pilot and will not require any modifications to the aircraft.
Automation and autonomy have broad value to the Department of Defense with the potential to enhance system performance of existing platforms, reduce costs, and enable new missions and capabilities, especially with reduced human exposure to dangerous or life-threatening situations. The CARNAC project leverages existing aviation assets and advances in vehicle automation technologies to develop a cutting-edge drop-in robotic flight system.
During the program, RE2 Robotics will demonstrate system architecture feasibility, humanoid-like robotic manipulation capabilities, vision-based flight-status recognition, and cognitive architecture-based decision making.
“Our team is excited to incorporate the Company’s robotic manipulation expertise with proven technologies in applique systems, vision processing algorithms, and decision making to create a customized application that will allow a wide variety of existing aircraft to be outfitted with a robotic pilot,” stated Jorgen Pedersen, president and CEO of RE2 Robotics. “By creating a drop-in robotic pilot, we have the ability to insert autonomy into and expand the capabilities of not only traditionally manned air vehicles, but ground and underwater vehicles as well. This application will open up a whole new market for our mobile robotic manipulator systems.”
About RE2 RoboticsRE2 Robotics develops mobile robotic technologies that enable robot users to remotely interact with their world from a safe distance — whether on the ground, in the air, or underwater. RE2 creates interoperable robotic manipulator arms with human-like performance, intuitive human robot interfaces, and advanced autonomy software for mobile robotics. For more information, please visit www.resquared.com or call 412.681.6382.
Media Contact: RE2 Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 412.681.6382.
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Fusion for Energy signs multi-million deal with Airbus Safran Launchers, Nuvia Limited and Cegelec CEM to develop robotics equipment for ITER
The contract for a value of nearly 100 million EUR is considered to be the single biggest robotics deal to date in the field of fusion energy. The state of the art equipment will form part of ITER, the world’s largest experimental fusion facility and the first in history to produce 500 MW. The prestigious project brings together seven parties (China, Europe, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the USA) which represent 50% of the world’s population and 80% of the global GDP.
The collaboration between Fusion for Energy (F4E), the EU organisation managing Europe’s contribution to ITER, with a consortium of companies consisting of Airbus Safran Launchers (France-Germany), Nuvia Limited (UK) and Cegelec CEM (France), companies of the VINCI Group, will run for a period of seven years. The UK Atomic Energy Authority (UK), Instituto Superior Tecnico (Portugal), AVT Europe NV (Belgium) and Millennium (France) will also be part of this deal which will deliver remotely operated systems for the transportation and confinement of components located in the ITER vacuum vessel.
The contract carries also a symbolic importance marking the signature all procurement packages managed by Europe in the field of remote handling. Carlo Damiani, F4E’s Project Manager for ITER Remote Handling Systems, explained that “F4E’s stake in ITER offers an unparalleled opportunity to companies and laboratories to develop expertise and an industrial culture in fusion reactors’ maintenance.”
Cut-away image of the ITER machine showing the casks at the three levels of the ITER machine. ITER IO © (Remote1 web). Photo Credit: f4e.europa.euIllustration of lorry next to an ITER cask. F4E © (Remote 2 web). Photo Credit: f4e.europa.euAerial view of the ITER construction site, October 2016. F4E © (ITER site aerial Oct). Photo Credit: f4e.europa.eu
Why ITER requires Remote Handling?
Remote handling refers to the high-tech systems that will help us maintain and repair the ITER machine. The space where the bulky equipment will operate is limited and the exposure of some of the components to radioactivity, prohibit any manual intervention inside the vacuum vessel.
What will be delivered through this contract?
The transfer of components from the ITER vacuum vessel to the Hot Cell building, where they will be deposited for maintenance, will need to be carried out with the help of massive double-door containers known as casks. According to current estimates, 15 of these casks will need to be manufactured and in their largest configuration they will measure 8.5 m x 3.7 m x 2.6 m approaching 100 tonnes when transporting the heaviest components. These enormous “boxes”, resembling to a conventional lorry container, will be remotely operated as they move between the different levels and buildings of the machine. Apart from the transportation and confinement of components, the ITER Cask and Plug Remote Handling System will also ensure the installation of the remote handling equipment entering into the vacuum vessel to pick up the components to be removed. The technologies underpinning this system will encompass a variety of high-tech skills and comply with nuclear safety requirements. A proven manufacturing experience in similar fields and the development of bespoke systems to perform mechanical transfers will be essential.
MEMO: Fusion for Energy signs multi-million deal with Airbus Safran Launchers, Nuvia Limited and Cegelec CEM to develop robotics equipment for ITER
To see how the ITER Remote Handling System will operate click on clip 1 and clip 2
To see the progress of the ITER construction site click here
To take a virtual tour on the ITER construction site click here
Cut-away image of the ITER machine showing the casks at the three levels of the ITER machine. ITER IO © (Remote1 web)
Illustration of lorry next to an ITER cask. F4E © (Remote 2 web)
Aerial view of the ITER construction site, October 2016. F4E © (ITER site aerial Oct)
The consortium of companies
The consortium combines the space expertise of Airbus Safran Launchers, adapted to this extreme environment to ensure safe conditions for the ITER teams; with Nuvia comes a wealth of nuclear experience dating back to the beginnings of the UK Nuclear industry. Nuvia has delivered solutions to some of the world’s most complex nuclear challenges; and with Cegelec CEM as a specialist in mechanical projects for French nuclear sector, which contributes over 30 years in the nuclear arena, including turnkey projects for large scientific installations, as well as the realisation of complex mechanical systems.
Fusion for Energy
Fusion for Energy (F4E) is the European Union’s organisation for Europe’s contribution to ITER.
One of the main tasks of F4E is to work together with European industry, SMEs and research organisations to develop and provide a wide range of high technology components together with engineering, maintenance and support services for the ITER project.
F4E supports fusion R&D initiatives through the Broader Approach Agreement signed with Japan and prepares for the construction of demonstration fusion reactors (DEMO).
F4E was created by a decision of the Council of the European Union as an independent legal entity and was established in April 2007 for a period of 35 years.
Its offices are in Barcelona, Spain.
ITER is a first-of-a-kind global collaboration. It will be the world’s largest experimental fusion facility and is designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion power. It is expected to produce a significant amount of fusion power (500 MW) for about seven minutes. Fusion is the process which powers the sun and the stars. When light atomic nuclei fuse together form heavier ones, a large amount of energy is released. Fusion research is aimed at developing a safe, limitless and environmentally responsible energy source.
Europe will contribute almost half of the costs of its construction, while the other six parties to this joint international venture (China, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the USA), will contribute equally to the rest.
The site of the ITER project is in Cadarache, in the South of France.
For Fusion for Energy media enquiries contact:
Tel: + 34 93 3201833 + 34 649 179 42
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