One Hub To Rule Them All: Home Assistant’s Amber Lets You Ditch Your Zigbee Bridges

Home Assistant, the powerful yet spiky smart home automation platform, is finally heading into the mainstream. Nabu Casa, the company behind the free, open-source software, has launched Home Assistant Amber, the first turnkey hub that can run Home Assistant software right out of the box. Unlike previous methods of using Home Assistant, minimal programming is required and you don’t have to build your own computer if you have the Amber.

Debuting on the creators’ crowdfunding platform Crowd Delivery this week’s $149 box is designed for beginners and experienced HA fans alike. Shipping is scheduled for June 2022, provided the funding target of $140,000 is met (it’s about a third of the way from publication).

Home Assistant Amber is designed to be user upgradeable, making it future-proof in the rapidly changing smart home space.
Image: Nabu Casa

The brain 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 such as Philips Hue light bulbs and Ikea’s smart bulbs directly to the Amber hub (no need to use your own bridges) and then control them in the Home Assistant software on your smartphone, tablet or tablet. computer.

The Silicon Labs chip also supports OpenThread and work is underway to make it compatible with Matter, the open standard with a mission to simplify the smart home.

The Amber Hub comes pre-assembled in a custom case with a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 (CM4) and a heat sink for quiet operation.
Image: Nabu Casa

Z-Wave compatibility can be added with a Z-Wave USB stick or through a connection to a third-party hub such as Vera or SmartThings. The Amber hub also has an M.2 expansion port, so you can connect an SSD hard drive for more storage, among other expansion options.

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

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

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

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

The eight-year-old platform is incredibly powerful and can do more than most mainstream options currently offer. The standard automations to lower your thermostat and lock your doors at night are there, but it can also track energy consumption and energy production (if you have solar power or something similar) and give a sustainability rating to your home to help you get on the right track.

To get your hands on a Home Assistant Amber, you must be one of the first 500 backers, as the company has only secured components for so many units due to the current global shortage. There is also the option of an Amber Kit that you can build yourself and which has the added capability of Power over Ethernet. However, they do not come with the CM4 and are not so user-friendly.

The campaign will end on October 27, 2021, production will begin in six months, and the units will ship on June 30, 2022.