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Home Assistant project launches its own Raspberry Pi CM4 carrier

Sep 15, 2021 — by Eric Brown 3,518 views

The Home Assistant project has opened pre-orders on an open-spec, $149 “Home Assistant Amber” system based on an RPI CM4 with GbE, 3x USB, ZigBee, and M.2 M-key. $99 kit versions without the CM4 include a PoE model.

Last year, the Home Assistant project celebrated the release of Home Assistant 2020.12 by offering its popular, Linux/Python-based home automation software pre-installed on a Odroid-N2+ Home Assistant Blue bundle with enclosure. Now, to celebrate its 8th birthday, the project has gone to Crowd Supply to launch its own Home Assistant Amber development board with enclosure built around a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4.



Home Assistant Amber (left) and mainboard
(click images to enlarge)

Three Amber home automation hub/gateway models are available:

  • Home Assistant Amber — $149 — ships June 30, 2022 — fully assembled with enclosure with heatsink and RPi CM4 with 2GB RAM and 16GB eMMC flashed with Home Assistant
  • Amber Kit — $99 — May 31, 2022 — kit with carrier board, enclosure, heatsink, Ethernet cable, and power supply, but no CM4 (screwdriver required)
  • Amber Kit PoE — $99 — July 31, 2022 — Same as Amber Kit but with Power-over-Ethernet in place of the power supply (no screwdriver required)

The customizable Home Assistant stack enables private, cloud-free home automation networks. The open source software supports more than 1000 devices using multiple standards. Home Assistant offers scheduled services for lighting and other controls and supports Alex and Google Assistant voice services.



Home Assistant 2020.12
(click image to enlarge)

The key new feature of last year’s major Home Assistant 2020.12 release, which has since been updated to a 2021.9.5 version, is the blueprint, which is defined as a “pre-created automation with user-settable options.” Blueprint lets develops share reusable automation in a predefined file format, thereby expanding the user base to less technical users. (See our Home Assistant Blue report for more details).

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The Home Assistant project has secured 500 CM4 modules for the campaign. If you do not get one of the first 500 Home Assistant Amber packages, they suggest you order a kit and try to find your own, much-in-demand CM4, as otherwise you will have to wait for a second batch of Home Assistant Amber units. Whereas the Home Assistant Blue was always intended to be a short-run project, it appears that the fully homegrown Amber is a longer term commitment — assuming the project achieves its $140K campaign goal.

The product is billed as supporting hardware longevity, in the sense that you could conceivably plug in a future Raspberry Pi CM5. However, CM4 modules are not backward compatible to CM3 carrier boards, so there are no promises.

Home Assistant Amber does not support the WiFi/BT variants of the CM4 because it would require the project to wait for a regulatory approval. However, you could add a WiFi/BT dongle to one of the two USB 2.0 host ports.

 
ZigBee and Matter

The hub is intended to communicate with home automation gizmos not through WiFi/BT but ZigBee. The product ships with Silicon Labs’ “latest and greatest” ZigBee module, the MGM210P Mighty Gecko Module.

In addition to supporting ZigBee 3.0, the 2.4GHz MGM210P Mighty Gecko supports OpenThread and the upcoming Matter smart home connectivity standard pushed by Silicon Labs and the Connectivity Standards Alliance, the new name for the ZigBee Alliance.

We first reported on Matter back in 2019, which it was called Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP). The new alliance and Matter project were launched after long-time mesh networking rivals ZigBee and Silicon Labs (Z-Wave) made peace. The former fierce competitors are collaborating on a single Matter standard that is also backed by Amazon, Apple, Google, Samsung, and other heavyweights. More information can be found on this Matter Wikipedia page.



Home Assistant Amber board with heatsink (left) and detail view
(click images to enlarge)

Like several Raspberry Pi CM4-based carrier boards, such as DFRobot’s recent Compute Module 4 IoT Router Carrier Board Mini, the Home Assistant Amber lacks any display interfaces. However, it does supply an audio jack linked to a “high quality” DAC.

The Home Assistant Amber is further equipped with a GbE port, which supports PoE on the Amber Kit PoE model. The other major feature is an M.2 M-key slot, which supports NVMe or a Google Coral AI Accelerator. Other features include a USB Type-C port for debug and recovery, as well as an RTC with battery, a heatsink, and a translucent injection-molded polycarbonate plastic enclosure.

Specifications listed for the Home Assistant Amber include:

  • Processor — (via Raspberry Pi CM4, which is BYO on Amber Kits) — Broadcom BCM2711 (4x Cortex-A72 cores @ 1.5GHz); VideoCore VI GPU
  • Memory/storage:
    • 2GB LPDDR4-3200 (via RPi CM4), expandable up to 8GB for BYO CM4s on Amber Kits
    • 16GB eMMC (via RPi CM4), expandable up to 32GB for BYO CM4s on Amber Kits
    • NVMe SSDs available via M.2 M-key
  • Networking:
    • GbE port; PoE (802.3at-2009 Class 3 or 4) only on Amber Kit PoE
    • ZigBee 3.0 (via Silicon Labs MGM210P Mighty Gecko Module) @ 2.4GHz; also supports OpenThread and Matter
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB 2.0 host ports
    • USB 2.0 Type-C device port with Silicon Labs CP2102N USBXpress USB bridge with serial debug and USB recovery modes
    • 3.5mm audio output jack (2V RMS) with high quality stereo audio DAC (SNR 106 dB)
  • Expansion — M.2 M-key 2230/2242/2260/2280 for NVMe or Coral AI Accelerator
  • Other features — RTC with coincell; 3x LEDs; plastic enclosure; heatsink
  • Power — 12V/2A DC jack (or via PoE on Amber Kit PoE); consumption: 1.5W idle, 2.5W idle with NVMe, 5-9W under load
  • Operating system — Linux-based Home Assistant stack; supports Raspberry Pi OS and other Pi-ready distros

 
Further information

Home Assistant Amber is available for $149 pre-order on Crowd Supply for the next 42 days. The product, which includes the CM4, will start shipping June 30, 2022. The Amber Kit and Amber Kit PoE are each available for $99, with shipments starting on May 31 and July 31, 2022, respectively. More information many be found in the blog announcement, the Home Assistant Amber Crowd Supply page and the Home Assistant website.

 

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