Google's parent company Alphabet has sold Boston Dynamics, a company that makes robotic animals and human-like bipeds, to the Japanese tech giant SoftBank.

Boston Dynamics' robots, which include the dog-like Spot, the six-foot humanoid Atlas and the sprinting Cheetah, have become sensations on YouTube but have failed to become marketable products and business was put up for sale last year.

SoftBank confirmed the deal along with the news that it is buying Schaft, a Japanese group that makes bipedal robots, bought by Google in 2013. The size of Friday's deal was not disclosed but is believed to be over $100 million (NZ$138m).

The company, which last year bought British microchip company ARM Holdings and has recently set up a $93 billion (NZ$128b) technology fund in London, is known for its outlandish bets on long-term ideas.

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The Google robotics unit behind Boston Dynamics was once led by Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android mobile operating system, who left last year to start his own smartphone firm.

After Google was restructured as the Alphabet conglomerate in 2015, its individual companies were put under more pressure to prove they could survive independently, and its robotics work focused on driverless cars and artificial intelligence.

Boston Dynamics, originally spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, produced impressive prototype machines. Its videos showed its robots carrying heavy loads, completing household chores and lifting boxes in factories.

One robot, BigDog, was designed with the US military and meant to help carry supplies into battle, but cancelled after the robot was deemed too loud.

Others showcased by the company included SpotMini, a four-legged robot that can load the dishwasher and clean up rubbish, and Handle, a wheeled assistant described as "nightmare inducing" by Boston Dynamics' chief executive Marc Reibert. Lifelike robots that can replace humans are expected to be useful in multiple scenarios as their abilities improve, such as carrying out work in dangerous areas, or lifting heavy loads.

Masayoshi Son, SoftBank's chief executive said: "Today, there are many issues we still cannot solve by ourselves with human capabilities. Smart robotics are going to be a key driver of the next stage of the information revolution, and Marc and his team at Boston Dynamics are the clear technology leaders in advanced dynamic robots."