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Digital gravestones of the future

A woman looks at a prototype of the digital headstone

The world’s first digital headstone has been unveiled in Slovenia, reigniting discussion about how tech is changing the way we deal with death in the 21st Century.

The interactive tombstone, which costs 3,000 euros, or roughly £2,600, seems to have had mixed reactions from the British public. While some like the idea of uploading memories to a high-tech grave, others are more sceptical about the innovation’s place in cemeteries of the future.

First built in 1879, Pobrezje Cemetery, just outside the city of Maribor in Slovenia, is a historical burial ground and the final resting place of many famous Slovenians from years past. Now it is home to what the cemetery says is the world’s first interactive digital grave.

The prototype, built by Slovenian company Bioenergija, has a 48-inch screen which can display pictures and video. Walking past the high-tech headstone, it looks very much like its neighbours – but when you stand in front of it and set off its sensors, the screen comes to life.

“This tombstone makes it possible to put anything next to the deceased person’s name and surname,” Saso Radovanovic, head of Bioenergija, told Reuters. “You can put pictures or a film there. You can write an entire novel if you like.”

Radobanovic says that the high-tech memorial, which is weather and vandalism-proof, has captured people’s imagination, with several already ordering their own headstone.

The digital gravestones were developed with the expert help of Milan Zorman, a professor of computing at the University of Maribor. He’s also helping the company further develop the high-tech memorial, saying that a smartphone app could increase the headstone’s interactivity.

“We intend to bring the sound to earphones connected to a mobile phone running the app,” he explained. “That way visitors would be able to listen to videos displayed on the screen.”

Bioenergija isn’t the first company to apply cutting edge technology to grave sites. For several years, others have been offering QR codes for tombstones. These black and white codes can be scanned using a smartphone’s camera to launch a webpage with a full life story of the person who died, including photos and music.

While QR codes on headstones require a smartphone to access the website, having a screen implanted within the grave itself means that the headstone can change its display and show a slideshow of information and photos for visitors to see.

The idea has received a mixed response from the British public, however. Some commenters on the news story worried that the headstone could be hacked, while another said: “A cemetery should be a place of quiet reflection, not looking like a backdrop to a pop concert.”

Another commenter had a more positive view: “To be able to ‘load up’ a personal headstone could be a comfort to grieving people and a resource for future family historians.”

“With the massive growth in digital technology over the last few decades, we’re starting to see real innovation in the funeral profession,” said Funeral Guide’s Jessica Hanson. “An interactive gravestone might not be for everyone, but it shows that we’re taking a modern look at how we remember loved ones who have died.

“We might find the idea strange now, but who knows how cemeteries will look in a hundred years’ time? What’s exciting is that designers are exploring the possibilities.”

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