Home Assistant Amber is a ready-to-use smart home platform

Home Assistant, the powerful-yet-prickly smart home automation platform, is finally moving toward the mainstream. Nabu Casa, the company behind the free, open-source software, has launched Home Assistant Amber, its first ready-to-use hub that can run Home Assistant software out of the box. Unlike with prior methods of using Home Assistant, there’s minimal programming required and no need to build your own computer when you have the Amber.

© Nabu Casa Home Assistant Amber is a smart home hub for the free, open source home automation platform.

Debuting on the creators’ crowdfunding platform Crowd Supply this week, the $149 box is designed for both beginners and experienced HA fans. Shipping is targeted for June 2022, provided the $140,000 funding goal is met (it’s about a third of the way there as of publish).

© Image: Nabu Casa Home Assistant Amber is designed to be user-upgradable, helping future-proof it in the fast-moving smart home space.

The brains of the device is a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 (CM4), and a built-in Silicon Labs Module powers the Zigbee 3.0 connection, the main Home Assistant communication protocol.

With Zigbee on board, you can connect popular home automation products like Philips Hue lightbulbs and Ikea’s smart shades directly to the Amber hub (no need to use their own bridges) and then control them in the Home Assistant software on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

The Silicon Labs chip also supports OpenThread, and it says it’s working on making it compatible with Matter, the open standard on a mission to simplify the smart home.

© Image: Nabu Casa The Amber Hub comes pre-assembled in a custom enclosure with a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 (CM4) and a heatsink for silent operation.

Z-Wave compatibility can be added with a Z-Wave USB stick or via a connection to a third-party hub like Vera or SmartThings. The Amber hub also has an M.2 extension port so you can plug in an SSD hard drive for more storage, among other expansion capabilities.

Notably, there’s no Bluetooth or Wi-Fi built in, and the internet connection is over gigabit ethernet. Home Assistant founder Paulus Schoutsen says that’s because they “don’t want people to get the idea to connect the brains of their smart home via Wi-Fi. It needs a reliable connection.” The full specs of the Amber line up with other Raspberry Pi 4-based systems, though there’s no video-out to plug in a display — you do all of the maintenance and setup through the Home Assistant mobile or desktop apps.

Home Assistant’s primary appeal lies in its local control (the ability to access your devices even when the internet is down); its secure, privacy-focused cloud offering; and that it’s completely platform agnostic. There are over a thousand compatible devices and integrations, including many that aren’t supported across other popular platforms such as Apple’s HomeKit, Samsung’s SmartThings, or Amazon’s Alexa. (A complete list of devices is published on the Home Assistant website).

© Image: Nabu Casa The Amber hub can be controlled by the Home Assistant app on a smartphone.

As an open-source project (with over 8,000 contributors on GitHub just this year), Home Assistant’s capabilities are literally endless. However, they require a steeper-than-most-people-will-put-up-with learning curve. Get ready to do some light coding to get your lights to turn on.

The eight-year-old platform is incredibly powerful and can do more than most mainstream options currently offer. The standard automations to turn your thermostat down and lock your doors at night are there, but it can also track energy use, energy production (if you have solar power or similar), and offer up a sustainability score for your home to help keep you on track.

To nab a Home Assistant Amber you need to be one of the first 500 backers as the company has only secured components for that many units due to the current global shortage. There’s also the option of an Amber Kit that you can assemble yourself and which has the added capability of Power over Ethernet. Those don’t ship with the CM4, though, and they’re not as user-friendly.

The campaign ends October 27th, 2021, with production scheduled to begin in six months and units shipping June 30th, 2022.

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