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Grieving together in 3D

VYVYT offers virtual memory rooms

There’s always going to be people dying – even in the tech world. Avatars that live on in place of us or chatbots with the voices of the deceased – such offerings are the way that Silicon Valley has been responding to the human need to cope with death and finality. And death tech and grief tech have also already become an integral part of the tech scene here in Germany. Funerals can be organised online and apps support the grieving process. What had been missing until now, however, was a shared virtual place for the bereaved to come together, regardless of time and space, in order to remember a person. That is exactly what the MediaTech startup VYVYT is now offering: 3D spaces serving as places of remembrance where individuals or several people can come together to remember. Founder Lilli Berger explains: “We’re still at an early stage of knowing how to use virtual spaces. People who aren’t familiar with the technology and the control system can be sceptical. But you disappear into the here and now once you start accepting it – and that’s a valuable thing in the context of mourning.”

The idea came about when Lilli’s grandfather died during the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the strict conditions meant that it wasn’t possible for the family to grieve together. Since then she has been developing virtual memorial rooms along with other founders.

As a funeral director by trade, she had the necessary prior knowledge and wasn’t afraid of dealing with such topics as death and mourning. She didn’t then go on to follow the profession that she had trained for, but ended up working in production and directing documentaries after studying Film and Leadership in Digital Communication. She also became acquainted with the MediaTech Hub Accelerator thanks to contacts at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF. It was at the Accelerator that Berger partnered with RAVE.SPACE – a provider of immersive web applications focusing on virtual club experiences – as well as coaching on pitch decks and looking for investors. A collaboration resulted in VYVYT also now using mourning rooms with the RAVE.SPACE technology as well as its own mourning rooms – death instead of techno.

The magic of three-dimensional spaces

The three-dimensionality, in particular, is where Lilli Berger sees the special magic. After comparing what they had seen in 2D and 3D spaces, the majority of visitors were still able to remember the 3D spaces months later and to reconstruct the objects placed in them. For example, they associated a digital tree with memories of their late grandmother’s garden. There isn’t any need for a realistic image to evoke such memories. Hints and anecdotes are enough to create a feeling in the room. One of VYVT’s digital mourning rooms can therefore look like a modern cathedral. There are high, plain walls bathed in light with photos of the deceased, a tree in the centre and other digital mementos such as a coffee cup or a favourite meal. But there are also custom made arrangements: one user, for example, wanted to remember his late father with a reconstruction of his favourite pub.

One doesn’t need any prior technical knowledge or 3D glasses for VYVYT’s offerings. The room can be accessed via a link on a smartphone or PC. Registration isn’t necessary. Visitors can log in individually or simultaneously with up to 25 people and navigate through the room either by using the PC control or acting themselves as avatars. This gives the whole experience a playful touch and can bring lightness to a painful topic.

Berger recalls that for one client who did not have long to live and had very limited physical mobility due to her illness, the room enabled her to have an informal get-together with friends thanks to her appearance as an avatar. The client had already used the room before her death. The room was again made available to the mourners again before and after the funeral. A specific invitation or certain occasions of remembrance, such as anniversaries or birthdays, are required so that the rooms can continue to be in active use. Otherwise, there’s a danger that the service often get forgotten in everyday life and the links are less frequently used. This is why VYVYT’s rooms are always limited to a certain period of time, another reason being that the technical development and consequently the design of the rooms require regular updates.

A Metaverse entry point for the funeral industry

The startup has developed its own memory rooms and uses existing Metaverse platforms such as Spatial for special offerings such as virtual funeral services. The team provides very personalised support to the bereaved or dying ahead of the funeral. The aim in the long term is to automate the service, but there isn’t any prototype existing at the moment that could be used for everything.

The advantage of having close contact with the clients is that one learns a lot about their needs and can test out different services. At the moment, the target group tends to be among the under-50s who are familiar with digital media. It is expected in the near future that there will be a great demand from the boomer generation for bereavement services – since it is precisely the baby boomers who will soon be leaving us.

The company is also way ahead of its time in the sector itself, Berger explains. The funeral industry is made up of small businesses and is often organised as family concerns. In addition, each federal state has its own funeral laws. VYVYT sees this as an opportunity to expand the industry’s offering and give it an edge in the world of digital players over the long term. “We have rich tradition of funeral culture and it is therefore important to establish something in the digital world. We need solutions that are developed here in Germany so that we are not dependent on international platforms and big players like Meta.” A digital offering gives local funeral directors the opportunity to expand their reach and include those relatives from abroad who are unable to attend the funeral in person, and moreover offers them a first taste of the Metaverse.

The feedback from the industry so far has been very positive. Rather than seeing itself as a competitor to the funeral industry, VYVYT aims instead to offer a complement. It is not just about making it easier to say goodbye, but also about celebrating a shared memory. Just as there are shared customs and anniversaries for birthdays, weddings or Christmas, the virtual space should be there to reconnect with a person one more time.