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Nucleus wants to take the friction out of video calling

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Video calling is a great example of a technology that once felt highly futuristic but is now available on nearly every computer and smartphone out there. FaceTime, Hangouts, Skype -- there are plenty of options, and they all work pretty well, and work in pretty much the same way. A new company called Nucleus thinks that there's still a lot of room for improvement in video calls, particularly in terms of connecting people instantly. That's the goal of its new product (also called Nucleus): it's a tablet you can mount on your wall or place on a counter that lets you connect with other users in less than a second.

Gallery: Nucleus video communication platform | 12 Photos

The first main use case for Nucleus is as an in-home communication device: with multiple Nucleus devices (Nuclei?) spread around your home, it'll work as a modern intercom device. You can just say "call the living room" and a video and audio feed from the designated space will pop right up in less than 200 milliseconds. To make things this speedy, the Nucleus actually sets up a mesh network in your home, similar to the technology Sonos uses to speed data between multiple speakers. You can also use the 8-inch touch screen to make calls, but the Nucleus team talked up its voice recognition features -- they cited the usefulness of just being able to talk to the Amazon Echo as a comparison.

That same near-instant communication feature outside the home, as well -- the Nucleus team imagines you being able to call your grandmother instantly just by telling the device to do so. While the idea of "grandma-friendly tech" is hardly a new one, Nucleus thinks it can make a difference by removing as much friction from the video calling process as possible, and making things nearly instant and voice-activated seems like a good way to go about doing that. Nucleus can even be handy when calling someone who isn't home -- there's an iOS and Android app that will let you take calls from Nucleus users when you're out and about.

Of course, the Nucleus team is taking privacy into account -- you can't just automatically call any room in your house that has a Nucleus device with impunity. You can set auto-answer by device, so you can always get a hold of the living room while keeping one in your bedroom set to private, for example. There's also a low-tech but clever solution to the idea of having a camera pointing in your room at all times -- the Nucleus is designed so that you can physically flip the camera around so it's pointing at the wall if you want to make sure no one can see into your room.

Beyond its communication features, the Nucleus can also hook into some specific smarthome systems -- the creators of the device specifically noted that they want it to be a multi-function gadget that lets you do more than just place video calls. The Nucleus will work with Nest, SmartThings, iControl and three other (as yet unannounced) home automation services when it launches. Nucleus also is working with one of the big streaming music providers (they wouldn't say which) to get the service onboard by the time it launches. The company doesn't expect people to buy its products just for that, or for its smarthome features, but they look at it as added value for a device that'll be hanging on your wall.

As for when and how you can get your hands on a Nucleus, the company is opening up pre-orders today for $209 -- $40 less than the $249 price it'll go for once it formally launches next year. It'll be a while before the devices get into the hands of people who pre-order -- the company is targeting a spring 2016 release. And while having some concerns about ordering hardware from a new company is reasonable, Nucleus is touting its manufacturing deal with Foxconn as evidence it'll be able to get products out to customers on time.

There's also the question of whether or not households will spend the money necessary to get this product off the ground, particularly when so many people have a phone that can just do Hangouts or FaceTime. The Nucleus team says its done the research and found that plenty of people are interested in having home intercom-style systems that cost a lot more than Nucleus -- whether or not that spells success for this new hardware remains to be seen. If it sounds like it'll be useful to you, pre-orders are open now.

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