Japanese tech conglomerate SoftBank has acquired 40% of Norwegian warehouse automation firm AutoStore for $2.8 billion. The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Monday and later confirmed by AutoStore in an update on its website. The deal values AutoStore at $7.7 billion. SoftBank, which has made a string of investments into e-commerce and robotics over the last few years, is buying the stake from U.S. private equity group Thomas H. Lee Partners and Swedish venture capital firm EQT. “We view AutoStore as a foundational technology that enables rapid and cost-effective logistics for companies around the globe,” SoftBank CEO and founder Masayoshi Son said in a statement. “We look forward to working with AutoStore to aggressively expand across end markets and geographies.”
Founded 25 years ago by Ingvar Hognaland and headquartered in a village near Bergen called Nedre Vats, AutoStore has developed what it calls “cube storage automation,” which enables robots to maximize storage space in warehouses. It says that it has deployed 20,000 of its robots at 600 sites across 35 countries and that its technology allows customers to either store four times the inventory in the same space or all of their existing inventory in 25% of the space. AutoStore customers include U.S. electronics retailer Best Buy, Swedish telco Siemens, and British grocery chain Asda. Karl Johan Lier, president and CEO of AutoStore, said in a statement that SoftBank’s backing will help it to grow in the Asia-Pacific region.
Investing in the future
SoftBank’s Son believes that machines will outsmart human in the next 30 years. Through the SoftBank Vision Fund, the billionaire has pumped vast amounts of capital into companies like Arm, Improbable and Brain Corp. as part of an effort to ensure SoftBank has a financial stake in firms that are working on next-generation technologies. SoftBank has also snapped up shares in several logistics companies that can improve supply chains for e-commerce giants like Alibaba, which SoftBank also has a stake in.
For example, SoftBank backed U.S. warehouse robotics group Berkshire Grey in 2019. The logistics automation systems provider announced in February that it is going public through a merger with blank-check company Revolution Acceleration Acquisition Corp. in a deal that values the combined company at $2.7 billion. Nathan Benaich, a venture capitalist with a focus on artificial intelligence, told CNBC the pandemic has clearly been a “boon” for warehouse logistics and fulfilment companies as they’re the “backbone of online commerce.” “AutoStore, amongst peers like Berkshire Grey, Ocado Robotics, and 6 River Systems, are almost 10-20 year ‘overnight’ success stores in robotics,” he said. “They’ve quietly been building out their capabilities and warehouse footprint over that time and are now aggressively capturing today’s surging customer demand.”