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Impinj Announces Commercial Availability of Its xArray UHF Reader

The device, now being offered by multiple solution providers, is designed to provide always-on inventory monitoring and real-time location data about tagged items, without the high cost of an active RFID system.
By Claire Swedberg

Creativesystems, another of Impinj's select partners, had added support for the xArray to its Creativeretail software—a cloud-based platform that enables retailers to track the locations of tagged goods and view the data using an app on an iOS device. João Vilaça, Creativesystems' CEO, says many of its customers have begun testing or permanently deploying the xArray reader in conjunction with Creativeretail, typically installing the gateways at locations where tracking the movements of goods is especially useful, as well as using handheld readers at other locations, such as in the back room or other sections of a store. In most cases, Vilaça says, retailers are going to want a solution that combines the xArray and handheld readers. The xArray allows users to know the movement history of goods, in order to help with business analytics and shrinkage reduction. However, he adds, handhelds may be more convenient for store employees to use in certain scenarios, such as identifying goods moving from one location on the sales floor to another.

Nonetheless, the xArray was designed to reduce—if not eliminate—the need for handheld devices, and to allow store managers to know, in real time, which goods are mis-shelved or need to be reordered, without requiring the sales staff to walk around the store while carrying handheld readers. The xArray device also provides information that has not been available with traditional UHF RFID solutions, Cotton reports. Retailers that have tested the xArray with software from an Impinj partner, he says, "are seeing data from the system they've never seen before"—for instance, how often shoppers try on a particular garment in a dressing room.

Most retailers who have tested or installed the xArray reader to date had already used conventional EPC Gen 2 RFID readers for inventory management, he says, but the resulting data in those cases is limited, since they require a worker to walk through the store with a handheld unit. With handheld inventory counts, the store knows what inventory it has onsite at that time, but the xArray's RTLS functionality provides considerably more. For instance, the retailer knows not only where a tagged item is at a particular moment, but also where it has been—for instance, being taken into a dressing room, but not being sold. If a shopper buys a product that is on display at several locations within the store, the management knows from which display the item originated.

For retailers already using RFID with handheld readers, Cotton adds, there will be a period of adjustment as they see the benefits that xArray's "always on" capabilities can bring to their company.

That may not be the case for health-care facilities that rarely use passive RFID solutions. At hospitals and other such facilities, management's concern is often centered on locating assets quickly, as well as on identifying the movements of patients and personnel, in order to improve efficiency and patient throughput. To accomplish this goal, hospitals have typically relied on RTLS solutions involving active RFID tags. The active RFID tags can be very expensive, Cotton says, and do not always provide the read accuracy and reliability that users want, according to systems integrators who have discussed the technology with Impinj.

In the manufacturing sector, factories that are currently employing active tags or have set up RFID reading portals for periodic read events can now gain real-time location data regarding work-in-progress or warehouse management. Nofilis indicates that its manufacturer customers are interested in using the xArray gateway to locate materials and goods in real time, and to identify the direction of movement within portal environments.

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