Losing a loved one or friend was difficult enough in the pre-COVID-19 era, with the dual traumas of death and burial. But these challenges have only deepened as the pandemic prevents people from visiting hospitals and participating in services. Today, Brooklyn-based startup AFTR is unveiling hardware and service solutions to make the cemetery experience easier for families. The company is offering two types of gravesite cameras, plus two levels of monthly cellular service that enable either photographic or audio-video virtual visits at any time.
AFTR’s basic premise isn’t just sound; it’s actually very thoughtful. Customers choose between one of two all-weather, solar-charged cameras — the GroundCam or MountCam — that are designed to be permanently installed either in front of the gravestone or on top of it with a telescoping arm. Powered by a high-capacity battery and a persistent 4G cellular connection, each camera can provide a live view of the gravestone and its immediate surroundings, which AFTR refers to as “an eternal connection.” You can decide whether to view this as a new form of public surveillance or a narrowly targeted way to interact with a small and particularly sacred plot of land.
The cameras have the ability to stream 1080p video and audio from the site, as well as using a small speaker to send a user’s prayers or other spoken words to the gravesite, where they’re audible at a deliberately quiet level. In addition to promising 23 days of streaming between solar charges, with an hour of usage each day, both cameras include a laser pointer to indicate that they’re being used and have infrared night vision to provide visual access to the gravesite at night.
Each camera sells for $499, but a monthly service plan is required to connect the family with the grave. AFTR’s $5 “peace of mind” plan automatically takes photos every day, sends them to the “Diary” of an app for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, and lets people “ensure the gravesite is clean and well-maintained.” With this plan, a single user can purchase video and audio streaming access as needed. By comparison, a “stay connected” plan that starts at $13 provides all-day video and audio streaming access. This plan lets the user add up to four other viewers for free, with the option to add buckets of four additional users for $8 each, with one camera servicing up to 13 people. The AFTR app also includes six of its own soothing audio tracks, as well as the ability to save favorite Spotify songs that evoke happy memories.
One obvious question that comes up is security: How safe are AFTR’s cameras against grave robbers and other people who might be wandering around cemeteries? The gravestone-mounted MountCam uses spring-loaded clamps — and two optional screws — to attach to the stone, while the GroundCam sits largely above ground level, using either a flat mounting base or sloped “all-terrain” base, including pegs for stability. Either could conceivably be lifted up and removed, though AFTR has implemented measures to reduce the cameras’ value to thieves.
“If the camera is stolen,” AFTR’s Joe Schechter told VentureBeat, the company is “notified and able to shut the camera down, making it a brick. We also have a built-in alarm that is activated via an inclinometer to detect tilt of plus or minus 90 degrees. When the alarm goes off, a loud alarm starts blaring and a message is sent to the owner of the camera.”
Another issue is longevity. AFTR says the SunPower solar panels are waterproof and rated for 20 years of use, and the enclosures can resist impacts such as the lawnmowers used by cemetery maintenance services. They’re also said to be IP67-rated against heat and “all weather conditions,” though it’s unclear how many years the battery pack will last, particularly in outdoor environments with extended seasons of extreme heat or cold.
There are signs that AFTR won’t just be a flash in the pan. Having exited stealth mode with $2.5 million in funding, the company has partnered with the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, the National Funeral Directors Association, and the Monument Builders of North America, including the option to establish funeral homes and cemeteries as dealers for the cameras. Their active participation could help guarantee the safety of the cameras, in exchange for ongoing revenues: AFTR is offering cemeteries a one-time placement fee for each camera, as well as a non-trivial portion of the residual service income. It’s also offering to promote cemetery-provided “concierge services” within the app.
AFTR’s cameras are both available for direct-to-customer preorders today, with GroundCam estimated to ship first on August 30. MountCam has an estimated shipping date of October. Users will be able to sign up for service plans within the app after receiving their cameras.