A powerful disruption in the Internet of Things

A powerful disruption in the Internet of Things

Interviews |
By Nick Flaherty

Thar Casey is passionate about disruption. Whether it’s a digital hearing aid with a six month battery life, a fetal heart monitor, fingerprint sensor, it’s the disruptive nature that’s key.

That is apparent in the technology developed by his latest startup, Amber Solutions. This has developed a power design that can provide native surge protection for every socket and quickly and easily put wireless sensors around the smart home, office and factory.

“We control the sine wave through software,” he said. “There are two core technologies, an AC switching with a novel methodology, and we trip 3000 times faster than a conventional circuit breaker.”

“We don’t use it for conversion, we use it for hold and release. From the AC main line we will give you DC from 0.25W to 15W. Our sweet spot for IoT and home automation is 2 to 5W.

The disruption is to bring one simple board with a range of sensors and a wireless link that also acts as a circuit-breaker. This can be added to any power socket or light switch so that the power can be measured in the Internet of Things. “This means I can build an LED light and smoke detector with a single SKU [part number] that operates from 45V to 600V,” he said.

The technology is currently built in discrete MOSFETs with separate sensors and a microcontroller on a board (as Casey shows above), and the company has signed eight deals with large companies to evaluate the technology. This board is still a fraction the size of a transformer.

What these companies need will determine how the technology is integrated into a single chip. “It doesn’t require new fabs or new technologies, it is in quarter micron, we don’t need something fancy,” he said.

Next: Building Amber’s IoT chip

“We haven’t built the chip yet – it’s in discretes. Because we are going to partner with a wide number of companies – some have their own paths, their own platform, we will cater to them for each one of those,” said Casey.

This can include different wireless links. The board currently includes Bluetooth and WiFi but Zigbee and Z Wave can be easily added. Using low cost standard CMOS provides a wide range of manufacturing options.  

“I don’t want to compete with Schneider or Siemens, it’s not worth it. What we want to do is enable these companies. We will give them the solutions and that allows us to focus on the technology,” he said. This will start with licensing then move to the chip design.

“We will design the board for them based on what they want and do silicon in 18 to 24 months,” he said. “We have done the architectural design of the chip – now I’m going to the IC market.”

Some of this is the result of practical issues in certification. “For a circuit breaker, the UL and CE test labs want galvanic isolation so we built that in, but for others its not necessary. Out of the top 20 electronic manufacturing we are talking to 18 or 19 of them and working with half of them and 8 agreements in place across Asia, North America and Europe,” he said.

“Everything is going to be inside the socket but inside the socket we can bring 10x the sensors with native overvoltage and dynamic power delivery with DC to power up sensors. That’s tens of billions of units.”

The focus is on sensors and measuring and monitoring the electrical supply rather than chargers. “Security firms with smart homes are using 7 to 10 sensors, we can do ten times that. There’s energy monitoring for safety and health, that’s a major push. I can put a temperature sensor, humidity, carbon monoxide on a flexible board and add 14, 15 functions to the box in the wall,” said Casey.

“We have not designed an outlet with a USB charger – the market has not reached a point where they are content with the output,” he sadi. “They started with 5W, then 15W, 5W now they want 100W. The low hanging fruit is conventional dimmer switches, LED lighting and sensors.”  

Making every socket and light switch part of the Internet of Things is certainly disruptive. Amber Solutions raised $6.7m back in 2018 and is most of the way through he Series B round which will include funding for the chip design says Casey.

“The opportunity for us is the embedding of intelligence in the infrastructure and the sensor expansion,” he said.

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