Alexa as a Home Intercom System


When we renovated our home, our contractor presented us with the option of installing a classic intercom system. This type of system requires a special phone or a wall-mounted device to page and communicate by voice from room to room. However, something inside of me said that these systems will be obsolete by the time they are installed, so we passed on the option. I then set out to find the latest intercom technology and I am certainly glad that I waited.

The first device that caught my attention was the Nucleus intercom system. If you are looking for an intercom that has both audio and video, this system may be the way to go. The product has come down in price significantly, and at $100 provides a rich set of features including an integrated Amazon Alexa. This means that you can use the device as a stand-alone video intercom or as if it was an Amazon Echo. You will require one of these devices in each room in which you want an intercom set up, which can quickly add up. Additionally, to hang this on a wall you will either require a power source at eye level or have a wire running up the wall. Alternatively, a power over ethernet (POE) would need to be run at eye level to the location of each potential device. The installation can quickly add to the total price. Placing the device on a stand and using WiFi with the cord running behind furniture is certainly the most economical and aesthetic way to go. I have not tested the product, but I do not believe it avoids any of the Shabbos issues raised previously with the Echo. Additionally, powering the device via POE will not allow the smart timer solution I provided in an earlier article.

Given that I (and presumably many of you) already have an Amazon Echo in several rooms, using the Echo as a home intercom system seems like the easiest and more cost-effective choice, for now. You can add an Echo Dot for under $50 and expand it to rooms as you feel necessary. While I don’t currently own the Echo Show, which is the Echo device with a screen, I did convert a Fire Tablet that I bought on sale for under $50 and converted to an Echo with a screen.  This is a much cheaper alternative to the Echo Show without the “clunkiness” of the device. While, we do not have a smart doorbell with Alexa compatibility, I do have a camera on the front door that I can ask Alexa to view from the Tablet.

The key to setting up an Echo device as an intercom is to uniquely name each device after the room in which it is located. We have the kitchen device named “Kitchen” and my daughter’s room named “Abby.” I keep the names as short as possible to make it easiest to speak. For example, saying, “Alexa, call Abby” is easier than saying, “Alexa, Call Abby’s Echo Dot” or “Alexa, Call Abby’s Bedroom.” It also makes it less likely that Alexa will misunderstand a word.

The Echo has two calling modes. One is simply a call where the device rings and a voice command is required to answer the call. The second method is the “drop-in” mode, where the connection is instantly established with no answer or acknowledgement necessary. This can be problematic from a privacy perspective. I set my kitchen Echo to allow drop-in from household members only. The thought is, anyone who can physically drop into the kitchen at any moment can also drop-in via Alexa. However, the master bedroom, which requires a knock before physically entering, will certainly require specific permission before connecting. I set the drop-in feature on this room to “off.” For kids’ rooms, it is really a personal call. If you have an Echo show (or Tablet) with video features, you may feel differently about this than if it is just a voice connection.

While the Echo as an intercom works well, Amazon is far from content to leave it at that. The Echo also allows the intercom to extend beyond the walls of your home. The intercom and drop-in feature can extend to anyone who owns an Echo device. My parents have an Echo and we have used it to talk occasionally (yes, Mom, I know I should call you more often). My daughter has an Echo in her college dorm and it does make me feel like she is just a little closer to home. But beware, Amazon is very aggressive in asking for access to your contacts, and if you don’t configure your Drop-In settings properly, you may have your boss or other contacts Drop-In on your family dinner unannounced, or perhaps even worse.

Finally, Amazon is taking aim at phone cord cutters (those who opt not to have a home phone) and now offer a device called the Echo Connect that will allow your Echoes to call any land line or cell phone. While I have not tested this yet, the idea of being able to dial everyone on your phone book without picking up a landline or cell phone is certainly appealing. To all this, my mom has one thing to say, “OK, so don’t pick up the phone; but call me anyway!”