Many devices have gotten smarter over the years, startup Nucleus thinks it time to change the home intercom. Ed Baig talks with CEO Jonathan Frankel
Eli Blumenthal, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — As an Orthodox rabbi with a law degree from Harvard, Jonathan Frankel would not appear to be your prototypical tech executive.

But Frankel, 31, does have a computer science background as well, which probably better explains his position as chairman and CEO of Nucleus.

And no you fans of the HBO series Silicon Valley, I’m not talking about that Nucleus.

Frankel’s Nucleus is a Philadelphia start-up that aims to produce a modern intercom, turning such a device into a smart, connected voice activated controller, designed especially with families in mind.

The Nucleus device, which can be mounted on a wall, taps into Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or the company’s own “mesh” network to let family members communicate with one another in a blink, or more specifically in less than 200 milliseconds, Frankel says.

Mom or dad might use this smart intercom to summon the kids down for dinner by voice — you might for example have one Nucleus in the kitchen, another in Junior’s bedroom.

Under another scenario, you might use Nucleus to check in on an aging parent who lives alone by video. Bark out “Nucleus call grandma” and the hope is you’ll be able to see each other with no lag or latency.

Indeed, Nucleus is not only meant to work within the home, but with other Nucleus’s, even ones halfway around the world.

And you need not arrange such a remote video chat in advance, as would be the case if you were trying to Skype or FaceTime someone.

You can also talk to multiple people at once.

The product has an 8-inch HD touchscreen with a wide-angle lens, night-vision camera and noise-cancelling microphone. A privacy shutter can block the camera for those times when you don’t want to be seen.

Frankel demonstrated the device’s capabilities on an Android tablet while showing off a non-working prototype of the device itself. He says Nucleus can function as baby monitor, home security camera, vehicle for receiving security alerts, and as a controller for connected home devices, including products from Nest, SmartThings and iControl.

Frankel got the idea for Nucleus when he was changing his son’s diaper and realized there were no clean diapers in the room — he shouted for his wife, but she couldn’t hear him from the kitchen

The company has begun taking pre-orders at a current cost of $209 each. The cost is expected to rise to about $249 by spring 2016 when Nucleus is slated to appear, with discounts for families that purchase multiple units. Around that time, an iOS or Android app is also expected to be available.

A sign of the product’s potential viability comes from the fact that it is being manufactured in Asia by Foxconn, the company that builds iPhones for Apple.

To get Nucleus to work you will have to connect it to power and have a decent connection to the Internet (Wi-Fi or Ethernet). Despite Frankel’s rabbinical ties, there are no miracles to solve that one.

Email:ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow USA TODAY tech columnist @edbaig on Twitter

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