Billionaire Soon-Shiong Says Technology Helps RetailersAndy Fixmer and Cory Johnson
Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong said his iD technology, software that identifies objects in real time, will help retailers become more than showrooms for competing online merchants.
In an interview on Bloomberg Television, Soon-Shiong said mobile phones and tablet computers such as Apple Inc.’s iPad can run the iD software from his NantWorks LLC, technology initially developed a decade ago for NASA’s Mars Rover, creating new commercial uses.
Best Buy Co. and other retailers complain customers visit their stores to sample products and purchase later for less at online stores like Amazon.com Inc. The technology can recognize a building, such as a Starbucks cafe, communicate with a database and offer consumers a coupon, Soon-Shiong said. Grocery shoppers can point a device at cereal boxes for nutritional data or discounts, he said.
“You would go into a retail store, and all of a sudden the retail store would become a theme park and all the products would come to life,” Soon-Shiong said. “This allows retailers to not just be a showroom, but to become a theme park.”
Soon-Shiong is worth about $7.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He sold APP Pharmaceuticals Inc. to Fresenius SE in 2008 for $4.6 billion and Abraxis BioScience Inc. in 2010 to Celgene Corp. for $2.9 billion.
Originally, iD technology was also intended to assist the visually impaired, Soon-Shiong said. A user could hold an iD device in front of an open cupboard, for example, and hear the names of items inside.
Commercial applications have only become possible in the past few years, with faster processors and better digital cameras, Soon-Shiong said. In October, Los Angeles-based NantWorks formed a joint venture with Malibu, California-based Jakks Pacific Inc., DreamPlay Toys, to use the technology in toys. This week the companies announced a toy venture with Walt Disney Co.
“We have been working on this for the last decade,” he said, referring to the techology.
Soon-Shiong is the second-largest stockholder in Jakks, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, with a 9 percent stake valued at about $25 million.
With the ability to create Internet links to images of objects in real time, the software also extends to Web search, Soon-Shiong said. A device will be able to recognize a photo in a newspaper, for example, and direct a user to a live newscast covering the same event, he said.
“The breakthrough we have made is the ability to recognize millions and millions of images,” Soon-Shiong said. “It has the ability to recognize 3-D objects and recognize moving images such as video.”