By Matt Hamblen, Fierce Electronics, 07.06.2021
Munich-based Infineon Technologies has teamed with California-based Amber Solutions to commercialize solid-state technology to digitize control of electricity in silicon with embedded intelligence.
Applications of Amber’s solid-state technology are expected to include smart circuit breakers, light switches, dimmers and outlets deployed by the billions globally in residential and commercial buildings. Amber provides intelligent power management in a small silicon chip that will be matched with Infineon’s power switch and control technologies.
Infineon’s size and customer base will benefit small Amber, based in Dublin, California. The company has 22 workers and garnered $12 million in investments in 2020- 2021, according to CEO and founder Thar Casey. Amber has been working on its solid-state technology for four years and has over 40 patents filed based on the core technologies, with several grants already secured.
Infineon, meanwhile, acquired U.S.-based Cypress Semiconductor in April 2020, making it the 10th largest semiconductor company globally with more than $10 billion in revenues in fiscal 2020 and 46,000 workers.
Infineon referred to the Amber technology as a breakthrough, one that could overhaul the massive global electricity infrastructure by enabling replacement of mechanical-based electronic components seen in traditional everyday light switches and other devices with digital, solid-state controls. Amber technology provides digital control of electricity with a fully silicon-based design for greater reliability and control. Bulky magnetic and mechanical components can be replaced with smaller solid-state devices to free up space and lower cost, the two companies said.
Jasco, an electrical products company, has evaluated the Amber technology and endorsed the alliance with Infineon. “We are excited to see the results of their work in our product categories,” said Mitchel Davis, vice president of connected home at Jasco, in a statement.
The Infineon-Amber alliance is an example that “solid-state transformation of our electrical products and infrastructure is at hand,” said Elizabeth Park, president of consultancy Park Associates, in a statement.
Amber has patented two main core technologies. One is an Amber AC/DC Enabler used for AC/DC conversion that does not require magnetics or high voltage electrolytic capacitors. It is capable of producing a regulated, low noise DC output up to 5 watts.
The other is the Amber Indestructible AC Switch, a power scalable and input voltage independent switch, built using Infineon’s microcontroller and MOSFETs that are protected from inductive, short circuit, capacitive over-current, surge and over temperature conditions. The architecture can be used in AC mains.
An Amber silicon-based design for a circuit breaker will allow a wirelessly connected retrofittable breaker than can trip 3,000 times faster than conventional products. It can provide embedded surge protection, wireless reset, energy metering and more.
The companies said in a statement that “broader product opportunities” may come in the future from pairing Infineon IP with Amber core technology.
Casey told Fierce Electronics consumer-grade smart thermostats and other smart home devices will be built by several manufacturers based on Amber’s products and put on the market in late 2022. The collaboration with Infineon is not exclusive, he said.
“We found a way to totally eliminate the AC to DC brick,” Casey said. “Through solid state technology we came up with a way to actually extract DC from the AC main. We [also] found a way to eliminate relays and provide an elegant way of AC switching. Everything we come up with AC direct.”
Steve Bakos, senior director of switching power at Infineon, said working with Amber provides an exciting market opportunity. “Stale technology is waiting to be turned into something that’s 21St Century,” he said. “To convert an AC source to DC without magnetics is a big deal. It’s an exciting, big market and it’s going to happen.”
Casey said other companies are working on similar technologies but added, “I don’t know anyone working on the overall arc of technologies we have now.” Some are developing solid state circuit breakers, and Amber has met with them to develop future technologies and opportunities.
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Matt Hamblen is an award-winning journalist and a veteran of wireless and components coverage for Computerworld. He has written extensively about 5G chips and base stations, covering Qualcomm, Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei, among others. Appearing in videos and print and his own smartcityscout.com website, he has explored Internet of Things topics such as security that affect cities, manufacturing and transportation. Matt lives in Harrisonburg, Va., in the Shenandoah Valley.