When Nucleus ceo and founder Jonathan Frankel, a father of three, decided to get a home intercom system to help him and his wife keep tabs on their children, he was shocked at the steep price tag. Moreover, the installation would take days and require inside wiring. Looking for a more affordable option, Frankel went online only to discover there weren't any wireless solutions available. So he did what any good problem-solver would do: he created his own.
Nucleus is a Wi-Fi enabled video intercom that allows a two-way communication stream over your phone or with other Nucleus devices. Frankel needed two and a half years to develop Nucleus, but today his invention hits the market with a bang. He's not only landed a deal with home improvement giant Lowe's to debut Nucleus in 500 U.S. stores, he's also connected with Amazon's voice bot Alexa. Nucleus is the first gadget with a touch screen and an Alexa integration.
While the company is not releasing sales numbers, it confirmed Nucleus pre-orders sold out within the first month-- that was October 2014--and helped drive interest from Lowe's and Amazon. Frankel said he's expecting to ship tens of thousands of those orders as Nucleus hits the retail market.
So how does it work?
There's no learning curve to Nucleus, "you just press a button and you're connected instantly," Frankel explains. There are three options: room to room, home to home or mobile to home. Imagine you're making a Skype call without waiting for someone to pick up on the other end. Sound intrusive? Frankel says there are built-in hardware and software features to guard your privacy and prevent anyone from instantly accessing your Nucleus device-- unless that's what you want.
Once you've set up a Nucleus account, you can build a network within the units in your own home or connect remotely to another Nucleus device, like your parents' house. If you build a home network, you can instantly access any video feeds from the connected devices. In remote networks, however, every time you want to access the video feed someone on the other side will have to accept your call.
This is the first protection lock. Let's call it a "cautionary knock." This way, if your parents or best friends want to hit you up for a chat in the middle of the night you can be sure they won't interrupt or immediately see (and hear) whatever you happen to be doing at that moment. Another privacy feature: when two units are in the same building, they're connected peer-to-peer so the information doesn't go through the internet (there are very specific exceptions to this, Frankel said.)
You can also control access to the devices in your home network by choosing the "privacy lock" option. It works the same way as remote calling: someone on the other side has to pick up before you can connect. In addition, Frankel included a manual privacy shutter for the HD wide-angle camera, to cover the lens so you don't have to worry about whether or not you turned on the privacy lock. A feature Mark Zuckerberg would surely appreciate.
Okay, and what about Alexa?
The Nucleus integration with Alexa works exactly the same way as with Amazon Echo-- except Nucleus has a touch screen. That's helpful when, as is sometimes the case, you ask Alexa to play music only to end up yelling at it when you want it to stop, or having to unplug Echo to shut it off. Nucleus solves that pesky problem by letting you shut off or change the music by clicking on the screen if Alexa doesn't hear you.
The most interesting part of this new device is that you can control most, if not all, the 1,500+ Alexa skills available. That puts Nucleus at a very privileged position, and its screen poses an interesting innovation to Amazon's service. Yet the simple interface allows anyone to use it, says Frankel, a feature that may be attractive to tech-averse seniors. Frankel says that Nucleus could be the first mass-market smart home device. "Nothing has really connected or clicked with the mass market. Pressing a button and seeing your parents, or your spouse or your kids, people get it," he adds.
There are still some features that need to be improved. If your three-year old accidentally clicks on the privacy lock button for the Nucleus in his room, you have to reset it manually (because of security precautions, there is no way to do so remotely.) It also has to be plugged in, via a power cord or an Ethernet cord, so it's not exactly wireless (you can wall mount it or use a desk stand.)
The device also includes technology for future upgrades, built-in LED lights to allow for night vision ("in the works"), and a still-not-activated thermostat and humidity reader. There's also Bluetooth and a USB port for expandability-- but without an actual use so far.
Nucleus retails at $249 for the first device or $199 when buying two or more units. Echo goes for $180. Needless to say, both devices are also available in Jeff Bezos' e-commerce site.