Digital tombstone inventor from Tatarstan: 'My construction can work from 50 to 150 years'

Digitalisation in the ritual sphere barely develops, and the invention has not caused a stir so far

Marsel Mukhametshin, an engineer from Naberezhnye Chelny, created a digital tombstone. He patented this idea back in 2012, but the information about it has been spread by many media outlets only now. In the interview with Realnoe Vremya, he told why he decided to patent this invention, how long it can work, how much it costs to make the same project, and whether it is possible to enrich yourself on it.

'These people are with us as long as we remember them'

How did you come up with the idea?

My grandmother died when my father was only ten years old. When we went to her grave with him, I asked: “What do you remember about her?" He answered, but behind these words it was hidden the fact that he remembered her very vaguely. There is my grandfather's grave nearby. I caught him, I remember him. But I understand that every year I remember him less and less. The memory about our ancestors goes away. These people are with us as long as we remember them, and I, as an engineer, have set myself the task of preserving their memory.

Then I developed the digital monument design, which I patented in 2012.

If usually only the image of the deceased is applied on monuments, then here you can place a small film about him about what his ancestor was like during his lifetime, how he moved, what his voice was, what achievements his family is proud of.

In 2020, we installed the first digital monument on our father's grave.

What is it like?

The monument is made of granite, contains a display and audio speakers. Tempered glass is used, so that in strength it is almost the same as ordinary granite. The electronic “filling” of the monument is reliably protected from moisture and condensation. The product is designed to work at temperatures from -40 to +40 degrees Celsius. The power comes either from a 220 volt network or from solar panels.

The inscriptions are applied on the inner surface of the glass, so they do not fade, they do not need to be tinted. When the monument is turned off, others do not notice its unusual design. Only the family knows the secret of turning on the display.

“The monument is, probably, my fifth patent in a row”

As I understand it, your main work is not related to monuments. What do you do?

I am an engineer, graduated from the Kama Polytechnic Institute with a degree in Automotive Design Engineering. I work in the automotive business. I also graduated from Kazan State University with a degree in Management, so my activity has nothing to do with the ritual sphere. As an engineer, I have several patents for inventions. The monument is, probably, my fifth patent in a row, there were patents before it.

Could you tell us about them?

They were specifically on automotive topics, on the design of cars. There is no point in mentioning them.

Is it difficult to get patents? How does it work?

There are certain regulations, there are specialised companies that provide patent registration services. It's not difficult for me: I just describe the idea, experts conduct a patent analysis, whether this idea has been used in the world before, whether there are documents for similar designs.

If they conclude that there are no such structures in the world, there are some distinctive unique features, they confirm that there is a sign of novelty, the documents are already submitted to the federal institute, and this application is considered there. After a few months, they issue a patent.

“I personally do not plan to devote my life to making monuments”

So there were no similar ideas in the world before yours?

Embedding a display in the monument — it was such. At the time of 2012, it was already possible to find examples on the Internet of how monuments with displays are implemented in cemeteries. If I recall correctly, it was in Holland, in Germany and in Slovenia, in my opinion, back in the USA. But their idea was to make the monument as a kind of gadget.

My patent concerns not how to embed a display in the monument, but what design features to ensure its long service life. The ones I saw on the internet weren't designed to last. But I stated in the patent that my design can work from 50 to 150 years.

If we talk about the financial side of the issue, how much will it cost to install one such monument today?

Everything that I was doing now, for my father and for the Novosibirsk crematorium, was done manually, so it's very expensive. Firstly, every project is individual, every detail, everything is done manually. The monument that I put up to my father cost about 500 thousand rubles. The same monument, but not digital, would probably cost me 50-70 thousand.

Are you planning to scale production and build a business on it?

I personally do not plan to devote my life to making monuments. I invented it, I would like someone to pick up this idea and use it. My friend Ilgiz Galiev, an engineer who deals with electronics, expects that if there are orders, he will provide them.

I created the idea, I came up with the technology, the engineer knows these technologies, and if there are orders, he will fulfill them. My daughter has now created a website, runs an Instagram on this part, and if there are applications, we will be able to do it for those who wish. But there is no flow yet.

We put it up to my father, and there was an order from Novosibirsk. In the Novosibirsk crematorium. They made the whole design themselves, all the details are granite, they only asked me to embed electronics.

If such monuments appear, will be a need for their maintenance?

When there is some volume, more or less sane, then it will be possible to talk about it. Now, on two ready-made monuments, it makes no sense to talk about the organisation of entire production facilities and repair bases.

“Who would need it? It's very expensive!”

When you received the patent, did you expect that this invention would cause a resonance?

I do not think that it has caused a great resonance even now. So what, a few articles came out...

Are funeral companies not interested yet?

When I patented it, I thought: I'll come up with it now, I'll send it to ritual companies — please do it. There was not a single response. Not even one! How many years have passed since 2012, my father died, I decided to erect this monument to him, conducted scientific research. After all, it's one thing to formalise on paper, another to assemble in practice. Scientific experiments were conducted, all this was tested in winter. This monument has already stood, how many relatives know about it! How many relatives have passed away, but no one was interested, no one said: “I want one, too.”

So what's the problem, in your opinion?

The segment that may be interested in this type of monuments, it is very, very small. We went to an exhibition in Yekaterinburg and showed this project there. There was a very skeptical perception of specialists in the ritual industry. They said: “Who would need it? It's very expensive!” The main consumer is people who buy these monuments for 10-20 thousand rubles, they won't even start talking about five hundred thousand.

But they also put up expensive tombstones, there is a certain demand for them, too.

Yes, if you look at some monuments, they are worth millions. There is a certain category of people who have no money constraints, but even among them only a small part is ready to consider the issue of digitalisation. After the exhibition in Yekaterinburg, Irina Dolzhenko, a designer of premium-format funeral structures, became interested. The Novosibirsk Crematorium also showed interest. This is a separate story, they have a whole museum of the ritual industry.

I was at an exhibition back in Moscow. There were a lot more reviews there, many said: “When will digitalisation come to our industry? We've been waiting for a long time, we've been thinking for a long time, we didn't get around to it ourselves, it finally appeared!” But no one has called yet, said that they need it. Any new thing takes time for people to get used to it.

The same video conferences, how many years they have existed, they have gradually, gradually entered our life as the norm. The pandemic, of course, pushed this case. Technology may exist somewhere, but people's habits only change over time. I think it's the same here. Time will pass, people will find out what it is. There will be more and more people of another generation for whom digitalisation is a matter of course, and they will order it. It will come. The question is when.

Emil Ziyangirov