This smart urn grows a tree from the dead

After a loved one has been cremated, there’s the question of what to do with the ashes. Some will leave them in an urn on their mantelpiece, some will throw them into the sea, some will turn them into diamonds, and some will pack them into fireworks. Barcelona-based company Bios make specialised urns that work as app-connected plant pots for a loved one’s ashes, turning remains into budding trees.

Bios’ new product is the Bios Incube, a chair-sized container that’s both a receptacle for ashes and a self-monitoring incubator for plant growth. The idea is that you plant your biodegradable Bios Urn into its soil – which contains a mixture of your loved one’s ashes, soil and a chosen tree seed – and let a sapling grow over time.

The Incube is replete with sensors, keeping an eye on everything from soil temperature and humidity, to surrounding air and light conditions. It will send you updates via an app, warning you if, say, the room is too warm. It can even water itself, thanks to an inbuilt tank supply. There are other plant pots that do similar things with sensors, but here the reasoning is arguably clearer – the last thing you want is a plant grown from your loved one’s ashes to die.

With an aesthetic that screams “futuristic hospital”, the Incube might look a bit too sleek and minimalist for some tastes. Its bulbous white body does make it easier to blend into most environments, however, and there’s nothing that immediately gives it away as a vase for ashes – if you want to keep that aspect to yourself.

Forest of the dead

Interestingly, Bios speaks about the urn in terms of bringing a renewed sense of meaning around the rituals of death: “What is clear is that the structure of burial and funerals no longer serve individuals or the environment, and the only way to move forward is through innovation,” its makers explain.

That may be a vaguely worded solution, but it does raise a real question about the place of death in an increasingly secular society. Bios asks “What happens when death goes digital?” but the Incube in many ways reaches back into the distant past, not future. For all its sensors and sci-fi design, this urn is a way to turn the dead into trees – at least in the minds of its buyers. This link between death and trees has been a staple throughout human culture, from Ancient Egyptian to Norse to Shinto mythologies. There’s almost something pagan about the Bios Incube – albeit an aspect dressed in 21st-century trimmings.

bios_incube_sensor

“The Bios Incube has been designed for city dwellers with limited access to natural land, those seeking an alternative to traditional burials, and for people who want to meaningfully connect with their loved ones who have passed away,” its makers add. “The world is running out of burial space, and utilising sustainable design the Bios Incube seeks to address this relevant problem by providing a real-life solution.”

At $550 (£434) for the full version of the Incube, plus $145 (£115) for the initial urn, Bios’ solution to modern burial isn’t cheap, but given the average funeral runs into the thousands of pounds, not excessively so. Notifications might not be the best thing to hammer people with when they’re grieving, but some people are sure to value the sense of connection offered by updates and growth data – although there’s the question of what will happen to the app if Bios one day closes.

There will be those that argue apps and sensors are misplaced bedfellows for a person’s remains. On the other hand, the connection between death and re-growth has been around as long as life itself, and Bios’ incubator puts this in the foreground, in your living room, beneath the windowsill.  

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