Bios Incube Puts Tech Spin on the Afterlife

A Spanish startup is adding a sensor module and Wi-Fi connectivity to its planter, which integrates cremains into a tree starter.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Mar 30, 2016

In 2013, two product designers and brothers, Roger and Gerard Moliné Navarro, began selling a product called the Bios Urn through their design studio, estudimoline, based in Barcelona, Spain. The product, the tag line of which is "Life After Life," is a planter used to grow a tree starter atop an urn. The tree starter consists of a small pod containing a packet of soil and growth medium inside a casing that biodegrades throughout the course of a few weeks. This pod fits at the top of a larger container, inside of which a user places the ashes of a loved one (either those of a human or a pet). The casing decomposes at roughly the same rate at which the seed sprouts and begins to take root. So as the pod's casing decomposes, the ashes—which are too alkaline to add directly into the soil used to sprout the seed—become integrated into the soil after the plant (either a ginkgo, oak, maple, beech or ash tree) has rooted.

"We've sold around 60,000 Bios Urn units so far," says Roger Moliné Navarro, "and most of those have been sold in the United States, Europe, South Africa and Australia. The units sell for US$145, and can be purchased either through our website or through one of our funeral-home partners."

The sensor module, placed into the planter, transmits moisture, temperature and other vital variables to a cloud-based server.
During the past 24 months, however, the brothers began receiving feedback from would-be customers who either lacked access to outdoor spaces where they could plant the product, or wanted a more ensured method of sprouting the seed. That feedback germinated the duo's next product, Bios Incube, for which it launched a Kickstarter campaign that has attracted more than 300 backers to date, pushing the funding well past the campaign's $66,000 goal.

Bios Incube turns the Bios Urn into an Internet of Things node through the addition of a multi-sensor module that transmits moisture, temperature and other vital variables to a cloud-based server via a Wi-Fi connection. The module is paired to a user's smartphone via an app that alerts him or her to any issues, such as low moisture or temperature extremes, that could inhibit the plant's growth.

The Bios Incube module, which the brothers have prototyped and have been testing for several months, contains sensors that track sunlight, humidity, temperature and electrical conductivity levels, to determine whether the soil needs to be fertilized. It also contains an accelerometer, which is only used to determine if the planter has been knocked over.

Every five minutes, the module transmits data through the Internet to the Bios server, via the Wi-Fi network of the user's home. Thanks to a collaboration with The Weather Channel, Moliné Navarro says, the Bios server will cross-reference each user's location with the current weather forecast. "If we know you keep your Bios Incube on an outside terrace and a severe storm is coming," he explains, "we will send an alert via the app that suggests that you bring the planter inside." The app would send the same alert if the forecast called for a frost.

A user can log onto the app and check the sensor's measurements at any time, but if the sensor module detects that the plant needs attention, it triggers a push notification. If the user is going out of town, a housekeeper or house sitter can download the app and receive these alerts as well.

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