Nucleus is a Wi-Fi intercom with Alexa inside

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The Nucleus isn’t your grandma’s intercom. Nor is it the ’80s-era system that suave salesman convinced your parents to have installed 30 years ago. Rather, it’s a digital point of contact for loved ones and friends so trivial to install, simple to use, and easy to master that the bevy of electronics within it become secondary. It’s like magic in an internet-connected, wall-mounted box: instant communication at the press of a button.

It looks the part. The Nucleus is sleek and modern, with sloping edges that hug the drywall surface to which it’s affixed. Thick white bezels ensconce the device’s 8-inch touchscreen display, above which sits a wide-angle HD, 720p camera and noise-canceling microphone array. And that’s about the extent of it. Other than a tiny, unobtrusive Nucleus logo centered beneath the device’s bottom bezel, the intercom is free of flourishes — just the way creator and company Jonathan Frankel wanted it. “The Nucleus designed for the mass market,” he told Digital Trends. “It’s designed for everyone from kids to grandmothers.”

It’s that audience, in fact, that catalyzed the Nucleus in the first place. More than a decade ago, Frankel, an ordained rabbi and graduate of Harvard Law School, had just begun renovating a home in Philadelphia with his wife and three young children. He’d been seriously considering an intercom system — he wanted to be able to call his kids to dinner from the kitchen downstairs and get in touch with his wife when need be — but was disheartened to learn that installation of them ranged in price between $3,000 to $5,500. After weeks of scouring the internet for a cheaper, Wi-Fi- or Ethernet-based solution and drawing blanks, he decided to pursue his own.

It took six weeks of brainstorming for Frankel to settle on the Nucleus’ design. Once he did, he conducted a bit of “informal market research” by launching a fake website and promoting it with Google Ads. “I wanted to gauge interest,” he said. It was a smashing success — within days, he began receiving order requests from would-be buyers.

Eager to capitalize on interest in the Nucleus concept, he tapped development firms to produce a draft device. Soon after, he partnered with a product designer, New York-based software designer Isaac Levy, and in a month had working prototype. He then embarked on a nationwide promotional campaign, demoing Nucleus from tiny convention centers to the set of NBC’s The Today Show.

In the intervening months, Nucleus landed the pecuniary and supply chain backing of Foxconn, the manufacturing firm best known for producing Apple’s iPhone. The firm led a $3.37 million seed round for the intercom startup in late 2015.

While Frankel may have filled his modern-day intercom to the brim with bells and whistles — it has a Bluetooth chip and speakers in addition to the aforementioned display, camera, and microphones, and Wi-Fi — the Nucleus emphasizes “interactions” above all else. Frankel sees the majority of these interactions fitting within three categories: home-bound, room-to-room exchanges like calling your kids down for a meal; inter-home chats with grandparents, uncles, cousins, or other relatives anywhere in the globe; and mobile calls from smartphones or tablets via Nucleus’s companion app.

Related: Need to buzz someone in? The Monkey is a smart keyless entry for apartment buildings

None of those scenarios are without existing solutions, Frankel concedes, but he argued that Nucleus is unique in its ability to facilitate “frictionless communication” in a way that the competition — i.e., Skype and FaceTime — cannot. “We want to help families communicate,” he said. “We want to bring people together all over the world.”

Nucleus does so primarily by putting “the people you want to talk to” first and foremost, said Frankel. The home screen, a bright, colorful interface that looks a tad like Apple’s iOS on the iPad, contains a list of people that you’ve contacted recently, replete with profile pictures and their names in bold lettering. You start a call session or video chat by tapping a circular, bubbly button adjacent to the person to which you wish to speak, and from that point, Nucleus works its magic.

Thanks to an engineering team that counts former Google Hangouts engineers among its ranks, the connection is practically seamless. “Within 200 milliseconds, you can have an instant live conversation,” said Frankel. “You don’t have to accept a call or tap a button to check on the kids and tell them to go to bed. You press a button, and you can see them and talk to them.”

Frankl believes polish separates Nucleus from the crowd. Setup takes no more than “five minutes,” and it’s a three-step process: You create an account, record a unique combination of letters and numbers, and enter said combination on other Nucleus devices you wish to pair. In the event of an issue, Nucleus has established what Frankel described as a “white glove” support experience: a dedicated team to ready to field customers calls on day one.

Frankel’s quick to point out that Nucleus has “bleeding edge” appeal, too, in the raw potential of its hardware. It’s launching with one example: integration with Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service. That makes Nucleus the first touchscreen device to integrate the online retailer’s digital assistant, Frankel points out, and, like other Alexa-enabled devices, one that’s able to perform the myriad functions which the voice platform supports. The intercom can play music from iHeartRadio and Spotify, for instance, and report current weather conditions. And it can tap into Alexa’s more than 1,400 “skills” — third-party apps that add features like Domino’s pizza ordering and Lyft ride ordering.

Alexa’s just the start, though. Frankel envisions kitchen appliances  controlled by the Nucleus via Bluetooth and interaction between smart home platforms like Samsung’s SmartThings, Google’s Nest, and Belkin’s WeMo. The company will solicit suggestions from its users, he said, and has plans to release a software development kit down the line. “There are all sorts of applications,” Frankel explained, “and power in having an internet-connected device with a camera and touchscreen and microphone. Developers could add a lot of value.”

The Nucleus will launch on Amazon on August 31 as a featured product in Launchpad, the retailer’s storefront devoted to startups. Simultaneously, it’ll launch in more than 500 Lowe’s stores across the country. The Nucleus starts at $250 for a single intercom, or $199 when you purchase two or more.

“That old intercom that grandparents have — we’re taking the same metaphor and bringing it to the modern era,” said Frankel. “We want you to be able to have an HD conversation in under a second, whether inside the house or kitchen and bedroom or across the world.”

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