Softbank Corp. (SFTBY) strikes again.
The pact between Nvidia (NVDA - Get Report) and Uber Technologies Inc. announced on Sunday at the Consumer Electronics Show brings together the brains behind self-driving cars with a leading ride-sharing company that has been experimenting with A.I. for years. But it also connects two companies in Softbank's sprawling global portfolio of technology investments, particularly ones focused on automotive technology and AI.
Softbank founder, CEO and chairman Masayoshi Son may not be speaking at CES in Las Vegas this week. However, the influence of his company and its nearly $100 billion Softbank Vision Fund (SVF) will be on display throughout the annual consumer and tech blowout.
Updated from Jan. 7 with information about the Nvidia-Uber partnership.
In addition to Nvidia and Uber, Softbank and SVF portfolio companies attending CES include wireless carrier Sprint Corp. (S - Get Report) , chipmaker Arm Holdings plc and niche autonomous car technology makers such as Nauto Inc. Son's global tech investments are disparate, but artificial intelligence, car technology and wireless networking are common themes.
Nvidia Founder and CEO Jensen Huang is an evangelist for robo-taxis and self-driving cars, as the partnership with Uber demonstrates. Huang touted the company's new Drive AI auto-tech platform at a Sunday evening press event leading into CES.
Meanwhile, Sprint will tag team with Softbank Robitics at the conference. The wireless carrier and the robotics company will display Pepper, a humanoid robot that Sprint will put in its retail stores to help customers buy smart phones. CES attendees won't see the frightening animalistic robots from Boston Dynamics, which Softbank agreed to buy from Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL - Get Report) in June.
Softbank holds an 84.1% stake in Sprint, and Son has said that the carrier is an important hub in its portfolio. For instance, Sprint could develop services using the Internet of things chips made by ARM Holdings plc, another Softbank portfolio company in attendance at CES.
ARM develops chips for wireless phones, IoT devices, smart cars and other uses. Softbank bought the company for $31 billion in 2016, and shifted a 25% stake to the Softbank Vision Fund earlier this year.
Other Softbank-backed companies at CES include Nauto Inc. Over the Summer, Softbank led a $159 million investment in the Palo Alto, Calif, company that develops vehicle cameras and A.I. technology for cars. The Softbank Vision Fund led a $164 million investment in Mapbox Inc. to develop mapping and navigation technology for autonomous vehicles. Mapbox will not have its own booth at CES, but will display its tech with partner Local Motors, which makes autonomous vehicles.
CES attendee Vayyar Imaging Ltd. announced a partnership with Softbank in late December, although Son has not invested in the Israeli 3D imaging sensor company. "Usually when people talk about 3D imaging, they talk about optics," Vayyar CEO Raviv Melamed said of the company's technology. Vayyar's sensors use radio waves, which can see through objects. "Just like 'Superman' vision, if you like," Melamed said. Softbank will use Vayyar's sensors on its Internet of things platform and artificial intelligence applications.
Not all of Softbank's investments are in auto-tech, IoT and A.I.
Take CES attendee Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA - Get Report) , in which Softbank holds a 29% stake. Softbank's initial investment in Alibaba dates to 2000, before Son's focus on A.I. and other technologies.
Another example is mobile device distributor BrightStar Corp. Softbank acquired the company for $2 billion in two rounds of investment from 2013 to 2014. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure came to the telecom from Brightstar in 2014, and the companies have developed a symbiotic relationship under the Softbank umbrella. For instance, Brightstar takes phones that Sprint customers trade in and sells them in overseas markets.
Aside from the Nvidia partnership announcement, Uber will not be on display at CES. The company sold Softbank a 15% stake for $7.7 billion in late December.
Uber and Sprint actually had a joint promotion at last year's CES. Sprint offered attendees free Uber rides, up to $10, to and from the convention. Customers got a $200 Uber credit if they switched their service to Sprint.
While Sprint and Uber are not reprising the offer, expect Softbank's portfolio companies to work together in the future. Softbank is assembling pieces of the IoT and smart car ecosystem ranging from wireless networks to the brains behind the machines. Son's master plan will surely be on display at future shows.
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Jim Cramer and the AAP team hold positions in Nvidia and Alphabet for their Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells NVDA or GOOGL? Learn more now.
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