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Does the smart home need an intercom system?

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Back in the eighties some of my well-off friends had intercom systems built into their walls. It was a feature of upper middle class homes of the time, but it appears that they didn’t translate down to the mainstream since I don’t often see those ancient speakers and push-button controls on walls today.

Maybe it was the multi-thousand dollar price tag and the wiring that made them a hard sell, but it appears that intercoms are making their way back into the home automation world thanks to Wi-Fi and IP voice. For example, this week Wink showed off a $300 light switch and touch screen combo that also has a speaker and microphone that will eventually double as an intercom system.

Last week a startup called Nucleus launched with a $150 device that uses Wi-Fi to act as a home intercom system with both a camera and voice activation. The company, based out of Philadelphia, launched on the Today Show of all places, and CEO Jonathan Frankel said in an interview with me that the idea came to him after he tried pricing an intercom system for his own home.

When he discovered that such systems were still $3,000 or more, he searched for something that used Wi-Fi. Finding nothing that fit his needs, he built his own, which will come out in the second quarter of next year. The fun thing about the [company]Nucleus[/company] is that anyone with the device (or a browser) who is on your system can tap into it from afar. So grandparents can talk to their grandkids with a click and see into their lives.

They also don’t have to click. The devices are voice activated and can be triggered on with a statement. This would be super handy in the kitchen when I need a bit of help from a friend who is a bit better with cooking than I am. I could get Kevin Fitchard on my network and ping him when I need help figuring out how to prepare a duck. With cameras I could even show him what I’m doing. It’s like a dedicated Skype or videophone in home.

Nucleus also hopes to integrate with other partners which means you could eventually control your smart home via voice, although in that case it will compete with other voice activation efforts in the smart home from major vendors and startups. But as neat as I think the device is, and as many times as people tell me about home intercom systems (Zello, an Austin, Texas-based push-to-talk application is another company that has tried to tell me that intercoms are back), I am unsure if people really need them.

Today, many people text their kids when they want them to come downstairs or in our case, we use a Hue light in my daughter’s room to convey information by turning her bulb different colors. I’m not sure people want a dedicated panel in several rooms of their home with a camera, mic, speakers and a contact list. It’s a nice-to-have feature, but it seems like even at $150 for the Nucleus devices or $300 for Wink (plus home control) it might be a bit much.

7 Responses to “Does the smart home need an intercom system?”

  1. FarmerBob

    We had one installed in our home, 5 levels, in 1959, matter of fact my Mother went into labor with me on her way back from picking it up. I remember it being used all the time when we were kids for communication, monitoring and music distribution. Needless to say once I took the place over an upgrade was in order. Now for communication and monitoring we use a Panasonic Multi-Line Phone System with cameras. We have bedrooms on levels 1, 3 and 5, with common areas on 1, 2 and 4, plus the garage and several outdoor areas and entrances. So an intercom/monitoring system is a must. As it was for most every home I remember being in back in the “old days”.

  2. Ray Kasbarian

    Definitely get an intercom. Especially if you plan a pool. And one thar can interface and source with all the devices any one might be carrying. And text to voice. If dinner is ready it’s nice to hit a button in the kitchen without having to find (and clean your hands) and fumble to use a device. AND most importantly make sure it has back up battery in case of power or telco failure, (or in an emergency).

    • Nancy Pickering

      That’s exactly what Zello does. It’s a walkie-talkie app but can be used as an intercom system. You can connect Android, iOS, Blackberry, Window Phones and even PCs to the same Zello channel and everyone on the channel hears the message real-time. Runs on wifi or data. It’s free, so why not use it? Better than yelling or running downstairs. We use it at our house as an intercom.

  3. Baxter Grey

    Stacey – with a smart phone in just about every pocket, texting and apps like FaceTime have replaced the need for any sort of intercom system. Do you remember when cell phones became affordable; it ended the market for the short wave radios. The trend toward “simple” will always win.