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. 

About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.