How Cleantech Saved The Day At My Uncle’s Funeral

Readers who follow CleanTechnica closely may have noticed that I haven’t written as much this month as usual. The newest variant of the COVID-19 virus (which I prefer to call the Xi variant, but that’s another story) managed to find its way to my uncle. He was fully vaccinated, boosted, and was extremely careful to avoid it, but he was also a transplant recipient. His weakened immune system just couldn’t keep up, despite the best care available. After struggling for weeks, he passed away at the end of last week. In typical fashion for my uncle, he couldn’t just give up, and took almost a whole extra day to pass away after the doctors told us he had only a couple of hours to live.

It feels unnatural to see a parent outlive a child, but that’s what happened to my grandmother. She recently had a surgery herself, and between that and her advanced age, she couldn’t safely travel from the next state to attend the funeral. This was not only devastating for her, but was boggling the whole family’s minds. It was like a double injustice to see a woman not only see her son pass before her, but not be able to see the funeral.

So, my wife and I cobbled together a rig to make it possible for my grandmother to not only view the funeral, but be an active participant. I’m not sharing this article to brag about it, though. I really hope that other grieving families will steal our idea and improve upon it to make it possible for everyone in their families to come together when tragedy occurs.

The Highly Professional Way To Do This (And Why We Couldn’t Do That This Time)

With a really nice, high-tech funeral home, you could bring everybody together for a virtual funeral without having to put a mobile Zoom rig together. With a computer, two 4K webcams (one facing the audience, one facing the speaker), a TV or projector, and a good speaker system, you could have a very clean and seamless experience.

Basically, you’d show remote attendants the view of the speaker and front of the funeral home when it’s not their turn to speak, and then put them on the projector or TV and show them the crowd if someone from out of town wants to speak at the funeral. Speakers are also essential, as a laptop or little computer speakers won’t be enough to fill a room and make it so everybody can hear the remote speaker. If you run a funeral home, feel free to steal this idea. It will make you some money and help a lot of families with the grieving process.

My uncle’s funeral presented an extra challenge. Not only was it an outdoor funeral at a cemetery, but it was also in a rural town in New Mexico. The cemetery had no buildings other than a groundskeeper’s shed, and there was nothing nearby to provide WiFi. There was no place to set up a TV or projector, no place to put multiple webcams, and on top of that, no electricity at the cemetery to power any of this if I did find a way to temporarily put it all up.

On top of all this, I only had 2–3 days of heads up, so I couldn’t order anything or buy a bunch of professional equipment locally. I had to solve this problem only using things I already had on hand.

The Mk I Rural Funeral Telepresence Rig

Obviously, we needed a computer. I have several laptops and tablets, and ended up choosing the one with the largest screen. When not being moved, the computer really needed to sit perfectly still to avoid video compression issues (Zoom and other web video apps don’t send pixels that don’t change from frame to frame, so the less movement in the shot, the better the quality will be).

This was particularly important given that we needed to rely on a somewhat weak Verizon 4G signal using my phone’s mobile hotspot. I brought along a painter’s pole and some tape to elevate my phone 15 feet and get a better signal, but that ended up not being necessary.

To make sure my grandma could be heard, we used a Bluetooth stereo and paired it with the laptop. There was room for this on the bottom step, under the laptop.

I also wanted to be 100% sure that we didn’t run out of power, so I took my Jackery Explorer 300 power station (which I reviewed here) and placed it behind the Bluetooth stereo. I wrapped the cords for the laptop and stereo around the legs and plugged them into the Jackery, which faced to the rear. I had a solar panel in the car in case the battery got low for any reason (I wasn’t sure how much power the gaming laptop was going to pull), so it could have gone through even the longest of funerals.

Finally, I used a number of zip ties and some painter’s tape to make sure everything stayed on the step stool. That way, I could move it around at the funeral without having any of this fall off and either break or interrupt the livestream. Because it was all secure on the step stool, we could place the rig in the audience when someone physically present at the funeral was speaking, and then move it back up to the front to allow someone to speak.

I had my sister, who also couldn’t attend, run the Zoom meeting, and we had a dozen family members from out of town join the meeting. Several of them spoke, including my grandmother. I was also able to have family come up to the computer after the funeral and visit with family who couldn’t attend the funeral.

It worked out pretty well, and really lifted a lot of people’s spirits.

How I’d Improve Upon This In The Future

Next time there’s a death in the family (I’m hoping that isn’t any time too soon), I’m going to improve on this setup and make it work even better.

The biggest issue we experienced was audio. Some people speaking at the funeral just didn’t have a choir or theater background of any kind, and didn’t project very well. People attending the funeral remotely just couldn’t hear them. Putting a microphone up on a tripod for the speaker to speak into would have made a big difference. Partway through the funeral, I was kicking myself for forgetting this, because I have all of that at home.

Another issue is that the computer or an external webcam needs to be up higher, and putting it on good pneumatic tires for going over small bumps and such would make moving it around a lot easier. Mounting up a really good camera probably would have made for much better video, too.

Finally, had this been in an even more remote area with no cellular signal, I’d probably need a satellite connection of some kind. Starlink would likely be the best option, as it has really low latency.

If a loved one passes away in your family, feel free to not only steal my idea, but come up with improvements of your own. There’s almost no reason that anyone should have to miss a loved one’s funeral in the 2020s. Clean technology has our backs.

All images by Jennifer Sensiba.


 

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