Traditional funeral homes reluctant to embrace new Aussie technology that helps families connect with funerals

Ever organised or been to a funeral that had a photo tribute during the service and wished you could get a copy of it so you could watch it in your own space in your own time?

A Brisbane company has come up with the technology to do that and it’s pretty cool and simple to use. The same technology also provides easy access to the video recording of the funeral and the funeral’s order of proceedings.

No, this isn’t a paid advertisement. I’m blogging about this because anything that helps people mourn and access funerals during these restrictive Covid times is worth talking about. The fact it’s an Australian idea makes it even better.

It’s called KeepAR (pronounced Keeper. The ‘AR’ stands for Augmented Reality) and it’s an App for your phone or tablet.

Who’s behind KeepAR?

Lynette Barlow is a Brisbane business developer and tech whiz who came up with the idea after her sister Sally died in 2018.

“I realised there was no easy way to get access to or share the photo tribute, the order of service or the actual recording of the actual funeral service,” she says.

“With KeepAR you can do all of that and share it to a mobile device with anyone anywhere in the world which is obviously really important during these Covid times.

“When my sister died, I needed the ability to sit in my car alone, or under my blankets and watch her photo tribute, listen to her favourite songs and have a good old cry because I missed her. That is one of the reasons this exists,” Lynette says.

How it works

The promotional spiel says “Keep memories close with Keepar. Connect photos, booklets and invites to video memories through simple and engaging Augmented Reality (AR) technology”.

Lynette says, “the Keepar app assists families to feel connected to a funeral service of a loved one.”

It allows the user to access funeral memories on any mobile device anywhere in the world through the free App, as long as the funeral director is using the technology.

I like that there’s no need to sign up to the App, no need to register your email address, no password, no data collection.

When you open the free KeepAR app it starts scanning. You simply let your phone scan the photograph on the order of service and straight away the photo tribute starts playing on your phone or tablet.

Lynette’s sister Sally sadly died of breast cancer aged 52. Scanning this photo with the KeepAR app will take you to her memorial video and funeral recording.

After scanning the photo of Lynette’s sister Sally on the order of service booklet featured in this ‘how to’ video, I was able to immediately access the 7-minute photo tribute to Sally and her hour-long funeral too. There was no buffering or delays at all.

I’m pretty impressed with how it works. It was so easy to use. Open app, scan, watch, share. This video will also give you the idea:

Tradition getting in the way

The funeral industry in Australia is very traditional. I know Australians like to think of ourselves as progressive, but our society remains very conservative when to comes to death, dying and funerals. And many of our funeral directors reflect that.

For now, only the more progressive funeral homes that are using the KeepAR technology.

“It’s been quite interesting because it’s an ‘old school’ industry and some funeral directors say that this isn’t for them because their clients are older. What they seem to forget is that it’s a younger generation who are going to those funerals,” says Lynette.

“Those memories are important and funeral homes need to ensure they are available whenever families need them, wherever they are in the world,” she says.

So if you’re planning a funeral, ask your funeral director to engage KeepAR so the people mourning your loved one can access the memorial video presentation once the funeral is over. And, if the funeral has been recorded, people who couldn’t attend the funeral can watch it at their convenience on their phones or tablets.

It’s easy for the funeral home to engage the technology. They pay a one-off set up fee and then there are a few ongoing plans they can sign up to, depending on the volume of users. They simply send the file of the funeral service recording and video memorial files to the KeepAR people via Dropbox and those files are uploaded quickly (within an hour after the funeral ends). For now, those videos are then available to mourners for three years.

When you go to a funeral where KeepAR is used, you’ll see the logo on the order of proceedings so you’ll know that you can access the memorial video in your own time.

Cool, eh?

Other cool Aussie technology

I wrote an earlier blog about beacon/Wifi technology connecting graves and urns with an App to reveal the story of the deceased.

The modUrn App provides a central place for photos, videos, voice recordings, music, documents – all sorts of things. You can read that blog here.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a death literacy advocate, a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$8 is payable for overseas orders). 

Journalist, author and death literacy advocate, Lisa Herbert.

Telling stories from the grave: Gold Coast teen’s memorial becomes a technological world first

Strolling through a pretty memorial park nestled between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, I stumbled across technology that will revolutionise how the stories of the dead are told and how the deceased are remembered.

Gold Coast teen Lucas Millott died suddenly from a heart condition aged 15. His memorial is at Eco Memorial Park in Stayplton, halfway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

In between the headstones, plaques, photos, flowers and trinkets at Eco Memorial Park at Stapylton, there was a headstone that had a little white plastic-looking disk stuck to it. The disk is Bluetooth-enabled technology which enabled me to get to know Gold Coast teen Lucas Millott via an App I’d just downloaded on my phone. Sadly Lucas died in class last September.

The Memento is fitted with a Bluetooth beacon which connects to the modUrn App to reveal the story of the deceased. It provides a central place for photos, videos, voice recordings, music, documents – all sorts of things.

The little disk is called a Memento and it’s fitted with a Bluetooth beacon that relays information to the modUrn App (more about modUrn in a sec). Lucas’ parents and friends have uploaded photos, videos, documents and text on to the App. When someone like me comes within five metres of the memorial or grave, that information becomes accessible on my smartphone. But, as someone who’s not connected with Lucas or his family, I could only see a handful of the information that had been uploaded onto the App. Lucas’ family have the final say on who can see what. Just like social media, the information can be either public or private or a mix of both.

I took some screenshots of what I saw when I logged on to the App as I stood at the garden site of Lucas’ memorial:

Who was Lucas?

Sadly Lucas made the news when he died in class at Ormeau Woods State High School last September. The 15yo suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which can cause sudden cardiac death in one per cent of those with the disease.

Lucas liked technology and gadgets. Headphones sit on his memorial stone and his love of his Xbox is written on his memorial plaque. It makes sense that his grave is the first in the world to be using what’s called a Memento (developed by an Aussie company called modUrn).

Lucas would have been 16 a couple of weeks ago so his friends, family, classmates and his dog Leila attended a memorial day for him. Photos from that day have since been uploaded to the App.

Lucas’s mum Agneta Millott says it’s great that anyone who visits her son’s memorial will be able to see life events and photos of Lucas.

“I’m hoping that whoever goes there can scroll through the photos, enjoy great memories of Lucas and sit there with a smile on their face.

“Seeing new updated stories and new images from his friends and also messages when others are visiting Lucas’s memorial in the future is going to be great”, said Agneta. 

Who’s behind this technology?

Followers of this blog and my Facebook page know that I’m a cemetery wanderer who likes to give a voice to those who can no longer speak. Cemeteries can teach the living such valuable lessons about the past and this technology offers a very cool way of doing that. I’m in no way affiliated with this company but I am very excited by what I’ve seen.

As soon as I got home from the memorial park I rang the young creator of the Memento for a chat. Sonia Vachalec is a photographer by trade. (Just hours before I rang her she’d signed a deal for this technology to be distributed in three countries including the USA. SO COOL – a little Aussie company doing big things – the concept has been created, developed and manufactured here in Australia.)

Sonia’s dad died when she was in her 20s and her stepfather died five years ago. She had stacks of their photos, voice recordings and videos lying around. “I was hoarding so many things,” she admits.

Sonia wanted to collate all her memories in one spot “so there was a time capsule to capture the essence of the person that can be accessed at any time or any place”.

Urns have the technology too!

Sonia hasn’t just created the Memento, the little disk that sits on a grave or memorial. The same technology is included in a bunch of funky urns called modUrns. So now the cremated ashes (called cremains) of Granny Mary can sit in the lounge room and you can access all her memories, photos, videos, letter, documents, certificates, story tellings, family tree, whatever, via the App.

Yup, that’s an urn for cremated ashes. The world’s first Smart Urn! The Bluetooth technology sits in the top, powered by a small battery that will need changing every couple of years. When your phone is within five metres of the urn you can use the App on your phone to scroll through photos, videos, etc.

The modUrn is certainly not your traditional-looking urn. And it can’t hold all the ashes of Granny Mary. (They hold about a litre or 61 cubic inches but these days lots of people are starting to split the ashes of their loved ones anyway.)

Here’s a video explainer of what you can do with the modUrn technology. https://youtu.be/JGssGwnOK7E

Sonia has a six-year-old girl who’s too young to remember the times she spent with her grandfather who passed away when she was 2. But she now has a physical reference of her Pop in the shape of a modUrn that is filled with photos of her grandfather. It sits next to the TV in the lounge room.

“She picks it up and hugs it sometimes,” said Sonia.

Death in the modern era

When it comes to accepting death and talking about it, Australians are way behind the times. While other cultures have a very personalised and hands-on approach to death and funerals, Aussies don’t want a bar of it. So it’s great to see an Australian company that’s leading the way in offering people an easy way to remember their loved ones. And yes, that includes pets as well. There’s a pet range of modUrns as well!

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Lisa Herbert is a cemetery wanderer, journalist and author of The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, an informative and amusing workbook and funeral planning guide for those who want to prepare for the inevitable. It is available in Australia for $24.95, including postage (Additional postage of AU$9 is payable for overseas orders). She enjoys telling the stories of the dead because they reveal so much of our history and way of life.

Lisa Herbert holds The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan.
Lisa Herbert has authored The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan, a informative and amusing funeral planning guide.