September 21, 2016Ted Karczewski
In early 2014, Jonathan Frankel started renovating a house in Philadelphia. With three kids and multiple floors, he wanted an intercom system, but was frustrated with the persistence of old technology. He found that home intercoms hadn’t changed much in the last 30 years; they were still expensive and difficult to install. What’s more, intercom systems had failed to keep up with today’s modern families who are spread across geographies and constantly on the move.
Frankel, now CEO of Nucleus, wanted to bring families closer together. He wanted to build a device that could bridge generations and let his mom video chat with his children with a simple touch. He wanted to visit with his family over dinner, even while away on business. Whenever, whoever, and wherever they may be, he wanted to talk to them—room-to-room, home-to-home, or mobile-to-home.
Now his vision has come to life. Nucleus, the first smart home intercom with video calling, and with the voice capabilities of Alexa, is delighting customers with easy access to music, news, weather, to-do lists, and even smart home controls.
Amazon created the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to make it easier for developers to add voice-powered experiences to their products and services. That proved advantageous for Nucleus.
According to Isaac Levy, chief technology officer at Nucleus, hands-free interaction was part of the Nucleus vision from the beginning. They prototyped early Nucleus units with various voice recognition solutions, including open source. When they heard about the commercial availability of AVS, they knew their search was over.
“We knew right away that AVS would be a great fit, and we wanted to incorporate it into our product,” Levy said. “It’s one thing to have basic voice recognition. But being able to unlock everything Alexa can do—weather, sports, flash briefings, all those custom skills…it’s like waking up a genie in our device. AVS helped Nucleus create an even more compelling customer experience.”
Levy says AVS allowed his team to develop a more full-featured Nucleus with capabilities the company hadn’t developed on its own. For example, natural language understanding (NLU) is built into the Alexa service, providing developers with an intelligent and intuitive voice interface that’s always getting smarter. This saved Nucleus many years of development work.
When Nucleus approached Amazon, the Alexa Voice Service team offered its expertise in far-field technology, public APIs, and hands-on engineering and marketing support to make it easier for Nucleus to develop and launch an Alexa-enabled device.
Developing hands-free voice interfaces that perform well in a variety of ambient environments can be challenging. With support from the Amazon test and certification resources, Nucleus was able to quickly identify issues and optimize performance for the best customer experience. For example, the two teams worked together to include an on-screen button that users can tap to access Alexa when close to the device or when in an overly noisy environment.
Levy says AVS has made a huge impact on the Nucleus customer experience. “By adding all the functionality, insights, features, and experience that Alexa provides, the instant value all our customers get is enormous.” That includes the growing number of skills built by third-party developers using the free Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).
The work has been beneficial to both companies. While AVS has made it easier to launch the all-new Nucleus, Levy feels Nucleus has contributed to AVS’ success as well. He says AVS has used his feedback and experience to further hone the certification process and improve documentation for future AVS integrators.
After all, that’s the goal of AVS: to help bring new Alexa-enabled products to life.
AVS continues to make strides in providing developers with the information and support they need to develop hands-free, Alexa-enabled products. Nucleus is the latest example of attaining that goal.
Follow these three steps to get started with your own Alexa-enabled product or service.