"Ask yourself which industries are most ripe for innovation. The funeral (also known as funerary) industry would not likely top your list. But Spaniards Bruno Mezcua Escudero and Iñigo Zurita are hoping to change that with Omlime.com, a social network designed to help families memorialize deceased loved ones, and Omneo Tap, a system that uses Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to provide a digital link between mourners' smartphones and a loved one's online memorial.
Escudero and Zurita founded Omneo Group in 2012, and their first offering was a new approach to packaging the ashes of loved ones who have been cremated. Escudero's family has operated funeral homes for generations, and he is an artist and sculptor.
Early in his career, Escudero worked as an engraver at a Madrid cemetery and was struck by the fact that families of the deceased who had been cremated would be given the ashes of their loved ones in a cardboard box. He found that an unbecoming approach, he says, and never forgot it. Years later, he partnered with Zurita, a business consultant who had clients in the funerary industry when he worked for Deloitte and PriceWaterhouseCooper, and the two men developed and patented a technique through which ashes are compressed and packaged into a memorial made of composite granitic material. Like a traditional headstone, the exterior of the memorial can be engraved with not only the deceased's name, but also artwork.
This approach ensures that the ashes remain together forever, says Christian Crews, Omneo Group Americas' CEO. "There is no danger of spillage," he explains. "When [one stores] ashes inside an urn, there is always the chance that the urn can fall or the ashes can spill out. In essence, we detached the morbid part of cremated remains." But the approach also presented a means for embedding technology into the process.
Inside each collection of ashes, Omneo Group embeds an NFC RFID tag and associates that tag's unique identification number with the deceased's name, obituary and related audio or video files, which are posted to Omlime.com, a website that Omneo Group owns and operates. Tapping the NFC tag with an NFC-enabled phone calls up the deceased's profile on Omlime.com, saving the user from having to search for the deceased on the site or download an app.
When Escudero and Zurita first began marketing their cremation memorials four years ago, Crews says, they considered adding QR bar codes to the product, but decided that such an approach made the offering look garish. Embedding an NFC tag was a much more attractive solution, he says, and Omneo Group began adding the tags to ashes in May 2015. The company then brought the technology to its U.S. operations, which it launched in October.
In addition to embedding NFC tags into its cremation product, Omneo Group is also offering Omneo Tap, a weatherproof NFC tag that can be added to a gravestone or a columbarium niche cover (in which urns are stored at a cemetery) via a strong adhesive. These tags can be added either when the deceased is laid to rest or that person's ashes are placed into the columbarium, or at a later time.
Omneo Group's suggested retail price for the post-cremation memorial ranges from $450 to $1,000, Crews says, depending on what a family wishes in terms of engraving on the memorial. This fee also includes an Omlime account and up to 50 megabytes of storage space (for images, videos and audio files) that can be posted to the deceased's page at Omlime.com. Omneo Group does not sell its memorial products or the NFC tags directly to consumers. Rather, it sells its goods and services through funeral homes and cemeteries, with which it negotiates pricing. Since launching its U.S. operations, Omneo Group has partnered with several funeral homes and cemeteries in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia.
Other products include an upgrade to Omlime Premium, which provides up to 1 gigabyte of data storage for an additional one-time $99 fee. A person can also purchase Omlime Premium in order to set up an Omlime.com account during his or her lifetime, and then create a time capsule with video or audio recordings that will be shared with loved ones following that individual's death.
Families who do not purchase Omneo's post-cremation memorial can buy just the Omneo tap, which will be added to a headstone or columbarium niche and comes with an Omlime account. The suggested retail price for this is $80 to $100.
Reading an NFC tag requires a smartphone with an embedded NFC module—currently, only phones that run the Android operating system. Apple products, running iOS, do not support this NFC functionality. According to Crews, that has not been a barrier in the European markets, where Androids have a large market share—as much as 80 percent. In the United States, where Apple products are more popular, he does not think relying on NFC technology will significantly limit growth.
"Android is still above 50 percent of the smartphone market in the U.S.," Crews states, "so roughly half of the family members can still access Omlime.com through the NFC tags. Those who use phones with iOS may not be able to tap the memorial to call up the profile, but they can still log onto the website [manually]."
Omneo Group is now looking to establish operations in Central America and Asia, Crews says, noting that two of the draws in Asia are its very large population and its strong Android smartphone market share. In the United States, the current life expectancy is 79 years, which Baby Boomers will begin reaching in 2025. Additionally, Omneo Group reports, cremation is growing in popularity, with 45 percent of Americans currently choosing that method over burial, and 50 percent expected to do so by 2018."
Original Article can be accessed via: http://www.iotjournal.com/articles/view?14069/2