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 Yellow, 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 Yellow.
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).
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 Yellow 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.
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 Yellow 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 Yellow 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).
A note on crowdfunding:
Crowdfunding is a chaotic field by nature: companies looking for funding tend to make big promises. According to a study run by Kickstarter in 2015, roughly 1 in 10 “successful” products that reach their funding goals fail to actually deliver rewards. Of the ones that do deliver, delays, missed deadlines, or overpromised ideas mean that there’s often disappointment in store for those products that do get done.
The best defense is to use your best judgment. Ask yourself: does the product look legitimate? Is the company making outlandish claims? Is there a working prototype? Does the company mention existing plans to manufacture and ship finished products? Has it completed a Kickstarter before? And remember: you’re not necessarily buying a product when you back it on a crowdfunding site.
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 Yellow 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 a Yellow 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.
Update, July 14, 2022, 1:50 PM: The name of the product changed from Amber to Yellow; we updated all references.