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NFC RFID Honors the Deceased

Families and friends can tap a smartphone against NFC tags embedded in memorials or attached to gravestones, in order to access written tributes to departed loved ones, as well as videos and audio.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 19, 2016

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.

An individual uses a smartphone to read a memorial post-cremation.
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. (Crews declined to name the manufacturer of NFC tag that Omneo Group is using, noting that it took years to develop the solution and it therefore provides them a competitive advantage.) 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.

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