Report: Hyundai Embracing Subscription-based Features, Buying Boston Dynamics

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Following reports that Hyundai Motor Company managed to purchase American engineering and robotics firm Boston Dynamics from Japanese financial conglomerate SoftBank for a cool $921 million, we’ve learned that the South Korean automaker has also fallen into embracing on-demand features. The trend, which is sweeping through the automotive industry to our dismay, basically involves manufacturers hiding vehicle options behind a subscription paywall instead of just letting you purchase the options you wanted upfront.

That means tomorrow’s car shopper might find themselves buying a vehicle that’s already fully loaded from the factory only find themselves forced to unlock heated seats or an upgraded sound system via monthly payments. In our estimation, the whole concept is ludicrously wasteful, diminishes the private resale values of automobiles, and seems like the kind of corporate nonsense reserved for dystopian fiction novels.

Normally, your author keeps an ear to the ground for this kind of thing. But the sheer volume of unsavory business ideas coming out of the car industry lately has made it difficult to keep track of their now rampant technological shenanigans. Thankfully, CNET was there to recap of Hyundai’s Thursday announcement primarily devoted to teasing the Ioniq 5 EV as the brand attempts to roll out SAE Level 3 autonomous driving via its new platform.

Despite connected vehicles operating under the auspices of someday offering legitimate self-driving capabilities, their ability to shift data is currently being used as a way to monetize customer/driving information. While over-the-air updates can benefit today’s software-heavy automobiles, the industry seems more interested in leveraging ones and zeros for its own gain and it’s exactly what makes subscription-based features possible.

From CNET:

It’s coming as soon as late 2021, according to a sweeping Thursday announcement from the company in which it detailed its near-term strategies, and the minor detail that could usher in big changes for future Hyundai owners’ ties to forthcoming Level 3 partially automated driving functions and the introduction of over-the-air updates. OTA updates aren’t exactly groundbreaking these days as more automakers turn their vehicles into highly connected machines (even the 2021 [Ford] F-150 is OTA-ready), but subscription-based features is a function quickly forging a relationship with such capabilities. Hyundai didn’t detail what it plans to include in its version of the feature subscriptions, however. We’ll surely learn more soon.

As for the purchase of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spin-off Boston Dynamics, Hyundai has refused to commit to anything. Officially, it “cannot comment on market speculations” but The Korea Economic Daily reported that the deal is already done and that Hyundai’s board will finalize the acquisition at its December 10th board meeting. It also said that the automaker had hired Goldman Sachs as its adviser and top Korean law firm Kim & Chang as the legal counsel in its attempt to acquire an engineering firm.

While we can only imagine what kind of fruit this will produce, Hyundai has previously said it would invest up to 1.5 trillion won ($1.4 billion USD) in robotics by 2025. Chairman Chung Euisun also said that robotics would comprise roughly 20 percent of the company’s business moving forward. This is supposed to encompass everything from taxi-like air vehicles and last-mile delivery bots to automated factories.

Boston Dynamics is probably best known for developing the four-legged Spot robot. But it has also produced the humanoid bipedal Atlas and logistics-focused Handle. Sadly, it appears to be in an abusive relationship with all of them.

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[Image: Hyundai]

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