As a product reviewer for several publications, I’ve played around with my fair share of electrical devices — from installing switches to blowing out doorbell transformers. So when I first sat down with Thar Casey, the CEO of Amber, to learn about the startup’s claims to use software on a solid-state chip to modulate an electrical current, I was skeptical.
I still am, but I can’t deny that the three-year-old startup has big plans for the world of electricity. The company makes a system on a chip that can take an electrical current, detect when it is about to surge, and then modulate it in such a way that it won’t blow out the components on a device or trip a breaker. In short, Amber thinks it has a way to make electricity easier to manage with a single, small board as opposed to the giant transformer and converter boxes we currently use.
It also can use the intelligence it has programmed into the chip to create what is truly a smart circuit breaker, measuring electricity consumption, preventing damage, and more.
At its core, the idea behind Amber is to rapidly anticipate and then step down surges in an AC current before it causes damage. Currently, the industry handles the risk of electrical surges with GFIs and Arc Fault Detection Devices. These add components to the back end of plugs, light switches, and inside circuit breakers.
Switching to Amber changes the form factor of electrical infrastructure, but it also offers an opportunity to gather more intelligence. The system on a chip already understands voltage, so it can provide electricity monitoring as well as remote control if there’s a radio on board. By freeing up space inside an outlet and on a board, there’s more room to place sensors inside light switches and outlets.
Casey believes this enables companies to pop more sensors inside the home’s basic infrastructure and could offer companies such as ADT, or even an electrical provider, a way to offer a home monitoring service based on the home’s existing electrical infrastructure. As someone who has crammed four smart switches into a four-gang box, I can tell you that streamlining the elements in a light switch would be fantastic. And because the switches have power, they are a good place for a lot of “smarts.”
The idea is to initially license the technology to companies in the electrical industry before building its own chip to reign in electricity. After developing its own chip in about 18 months, Amber hopes to eventually sell its own line of products that might include outlets, light switches, circuit breakers, etc. The Amber technology could also be used to make LED lights that don’t flicker.
During the call with Casey, I brought up several brands that are prominent in the lighting and electrical sector, including Eaton, Schneider Electric, Leviton, Lutron, and Hubbell. Casey said his company has agreements with some of the companies I named but declined to specify which ones might be licensing Amber’s technology. A total of four companies have so far licensed the system on a chip to build new products.
Prior to his role at Amber, Casey led several companies. One created the Lyric hearing aid, another created a fetal monitoring device, and he also led a biometric security company that was later sold. So far, Amber has received five patents and has more than 30 more filed for its technology.
If Amber can create a platform that’s built into the wiring of the home, which can be accessed by other players in the smart home world, it could become a significant company—even if most consumers never know the name or the tech behind their smarter, slimmer electrical components.