Innovations sometimes pop up unexpectedly — something the up-and-coming smart home operation at Nucleus learned right around the time of its founding.
Today, the New York-based firm stands behind a clever central control hub for smart homes that’s been endorsed by the likes of Amazon and Lowe’s. And while the firm couldn’t be happier about its progress, Cofounder and CEO Jonathan Frankel had a much simpler goal in mind at the start.
All he wanted was an intercom system to keep track of his three rather energetic young boys while at home, and his research revealed that even a relatively simple intercom system would cost multiple thousands of dollars and require drilling some fairly serious holes in his walls.
“What I found resembled what my parents had in our home growing up — clunky and outdated, not to mention extremely expensive to install. It would require that my wife and I rewire the house and break down walls to get the system up and running,” Frankel noted. “On top of that, they didn’t offer desired features like video options, smartphone connectivity or connected device control, so it didn’t really suit our family.”
However, where others might have given up — or paid a lot for something that didn’t meet their needs — Frankel picked the road less traveled and definitely much harder: He decided to build his own solution.
Frankel, it should be noted, has a rather diverse background. He holds a JD from Harvard Law, has a BA in computer science and is an ordained rabbi (via the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary). However, when it came time to build the prototype for what is now the Nucleus, he tagged in some more technically specialized help in the form of Isaac Levy, a multiple patent holder in wireless video communication and the father of three boys, too.
The culmination of their efforts — boosted by an ~$4 million seed round last fall led by Foxconn — is a wall-mountable tablet-like intercom device that allows families to talk between rooms in their homes, between homes or between the Nucleus and other smart devices (tablets, smartphones, etc). Apart from its communications capabilities, the Nucleus also acts as a central command hub that gives users an easy interface to access home security functions, make voice commands and control smart appliances.
“Consumers see a smart lightbulb or a voice-activated washing machine and they think, ‘Oh, wow, that’s cool,’ but they won’t think about about how much they need it,” Frankel noted. “Smart houses are absolutely the future, but to introduce people to that, I think, they need to be paired with a need for families, and communication is a central need.”
And it is a central need that Frankel thinks his company will fill.
As of yet, not a single device has been sold — Nucleus is still in pre-order and is not scheduled to ship until early summer 2016. The price for the unit — a Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled device with an eight-inch touch screen, wide-angle camera and noise-canceling microphone — is $203 for a pre-order. It will rise to $250 (with a discount for multiple devices ordered).
Despite the fact that it has yet to get a formal test drive from consumers, the super-small device firm has already picked up some rather high-profile interest. Foxconn, most famously known for building Apple’s iPhones, led its seed funding round. At CES last week, the firm announced a national partnership with Lowe’s that will see the national chain taking pre-orders for the devices starting this month and also promoting the product as part of its connected home “kits.”
“We’ve been in the smart home space for a long time and learned a lot in the process, and the minute we saw this we knew it would help our customers,” said Zach Miller, merchandising vice president of connected home and security at Lowe’s. “It’s a busy industry, and there are a lot of folks trying their hands at lots of different products and concepts. [Nucleus] felt like a great blend of where that home improvement customer is and connecting families.”
“We are thrilled to announce our category-exclusive retail partnership with Lowe’s, the home improvement company trusted by millions of families across the country,” noted Morley Ivers, cofounder and president of Nucleus. “Lowe’s pairs over 70 years of home improvement expertise with a valued customer experience, and we are excited to offer Nucleus to simplify the connected home for customers.”
Nucleus has also announced a tie-in with the Amazon Home Automation store and is integrating with Alexa, the digital personal assistant for the Amazon Echo. The firm also announced its inclusion on Amazon Launchpad.
“Between their hundreds of millions of customers worldwide and unparalleled fulfillment networks, we are honored to join Amazon Launchpad. Amazon recognizes the increasing importance of connected home devices, and we’re excited Nucleus will be included on such a large discovery platform,” Ivers noted.
Nucleus is a small firm that, today, most people probably haven’t heard of but that nonetheless has drawn the interest of some much bigger players whom everyone has heard of with an idea that is, at base, pretty old school: an intercom system.
But Nucleus has attached some cutting-edge capabilities to that old school idea and, in so doing, has offered something that might just have a lot of potential – an inroad to the 94 percent of consumers that, as of yet, have not really made a purchase-level commitment to the future of smart connected devices.
And if it has correctly guessed how much demand there is for an easy and relatively inexpensive communication network for families in the digital age, well, Nucleus might not stay all that small for all that much longer.