SoftBank is investing in GM’s autonomous car unit, Cruise. This is one of SoftBank’s many investments into AI and automation. Source: Cruise.

Softbank gets serious about autonomous tech

SOFTBANK Group is keen on planning ahead and wants to keep growing for the next three centuries. CEO Masayoshi Son is, therefore, investing in technologies that will keep the company relevant.

The company has just acquired Cruise, GM’s autonomous car unit for a record US$2.25 billion, and hopes the deal will contribute to the company’s goal of being a leader in connected technology.

SoftBank owns a stake in several transport-related technology companies, including Uber Technologies and China’s Didi Chuxing. Autonomous driving is a logical next step.

Already, Alphabet’s Waymo is doing trial runs for autonomous taxis in Phoenix. If it didn’t also invest in autonomous driving, it will quickly rack up costs in providing ride-hailing as a service.

Although a few years away from a commercial roll-out, automakers have been moving quickly to develop autonomous driving technology on their own or looking to acquire a company with the necessary expertise.

SoftBank has previously dabbled in this space through investment in autonomous car tech startup Nauto and digital mapping company Mapbox. However, the deal with GM marks the company’s largest investment in autonomous driving to date.

Although Uber Technologies has a self-driving vehicle unit, the company faced backlash after a pedestrian in Arizona was killed by one of its cars. Since then, the company halted testing, with no known plans for future initiatives.

This is discounting the ride-hailing giant’s whirlwind of scandals, which included a trade secret lawsuit involving Waymo’s self-driving technology.

In a conference last week, Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi had suggested that they will consider partnering for self-driving initiatives instead. He is currently in talks with Waymo about adding its autonomous vehicles into Uber’s ride-hailing network.

For CEO Son, diversifying his efforts into GM will provide the company with a larger playing field in autonomous transportation.

Besides autonomous driving technology, Son has been investing in other technologies relating to AI and automation.

Since 2015, he has acquired chip designer ARM, bought robotics company Boston Dynamics, invested into chipmaker Nvidia and software maker Brain Corp. SoftBank also holds stakes in companies within biotech, e-commerce, and digital payments.