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Impinj Releases xSpan Reader for Tracking Flow of Items, People

The latest in the company's family of gateway readers with built-in steerable-beam antennas, the xSpan has two-directional tracking capacity, and is smaller and less expensive than Impinj's xArray.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 23, 2016

Impinj, a provider of RFID devices and software, has begun taking orders for a new gateway reader that employs steerable-beam antennas to track the direction of moving passive EPC Gen 2 (RAIN) RFID tags as those tags are being read. The xSpan is the third member of Impinj's family of gateway readers (following the xPortal and the xArray), which all feature a built-in steerable-beam antenna, also known as a phased-array antenna. The xArray offers a wider read range and more precise location accuracy than the xSpan, the company reports, but is also larger and more expensive.

"We saw a need for customers that didn't need the precise x and y coordinates [that the xArray provides]," says Craig Cotton, Impinj's ‎marketing and product management VP. Those customers, however, still required directional information that a reader such as the xPortal could not provide. In some cases, users were installing xArrays to identify the location in which an item was moving, so that they could monitor where it was in real time or understand other information, such as whether a pallet was loaded onto the correct truck, or down which hospital corridor a wheelchair turned while moving through a busy emergency department. If they needed to know only whether a tag moved forward or backward, however (such as onto or off of a truck), or if their need for location information was not very granular, the xArray could be an overpriced solution for their purposes.

Mounted on a wall or ceiling, the xSpan can track the movements of tagged merchandise, equipment and individuals.
Therefore, Cotton says, Impinj developed a product with a forward and backward sweep of antenna beams, rather than the xArray's circular coverage area, in the form of a reader that could be smaller and less expensive while offering a more limited coverage area. "We were very purposeful to meet a slightly different need," he says. While the xArray supports a 1,500-square-foot circular coverage area, with 52 polarized beams arranged in nine sectors, the xSpan supports a rectangular coverage area of 1,000 square feet, with 13 polarized beams arranged in three sectors.

The xSpan measures 18.8 inches in length by 8.7 inches in width (approximately half the width of the xArray) and 3.5 inches in depth—and like the xArray, it uses Power-over-Ethernet. It can be mounted on a wall or ceiling, Cotton says, and is designed to be more aesthetically pleasing for such locations as upscale stores. However, it is also well suited for more industrial environments, he notes, since it can be mounted simply on a wall without requiring a dedicated portal, which can take up space and require barriers to protect the hardware from blows caused by forklifts or other vehicles.

Companies using the xSpan to date have mostly been in three sectors: retail, logistics and health care. (None of these businesses are willing to be named.) Retailers are deploying the readers at store entrances and exits, as well as in corridors or doorways between the back room and sales floor. At the exits, the system can detect whether an item with a tag is leaving the store (as opposed to merely pausing near the door) or arriving.

At the transition between the store's back and front areas, the technology can enable users to identify if a tagged item is being moved onto the sales floor or into the back room. That information enables a store to create a more accurate inventory of goods than it could using a basic portal reader that would simply identify if an item was detected in the transition area, but not indicate the direction in which that product was moving. The xSpan could also be installed on the sales floor or in a storage area, provided that the retailer does not require an RFID coverage area as broad as that provided by the xArray.

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