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In Memoriam device detects when someone dies alone


Designer Ony Yan has created a two-part system that can be installed in single-person households to notify neighbours in the event of their death, and was designed to “encourage a community to look after each other”.

In Memoriam, a functional prototype system that can be installed in homes, comprises a battery-powered odour detector and a signal lamp that are linked by a wireless connection.

In Memoriam detector
A signal lamp lets passersby know that someone has died

Subtle in shape and colour, the white odour detector can be discretely fixed to a wall and reacts to the sulphur compounds that are released when a human body decays after death.

The black signal lamp – which is placed at the entrance of the home – then receives this information from the detector wirelessly. An in-built servomotor tilts the upper part of the lamp 45 degrees, revealing a glowing light informed by candles that was designed to attract the attention of neighbours and passersby.

Odour detector
The odour detector is composed of metal, wires and a circuit board encased within polystyrene

“The odour detector hangs at eye level – or breathing height – because my chosen volatile organic compounds as indicators of decay, in this case, sulphur compounds, are heavier than the ambient air,” explained Ony.

“It is similarly comparable to installing carbon monoxide detectors, which are often placed at the same height.”

Odor detector
It can be installed on the wall of a living room

Ony created the project as part of her bachelor’s thesis while studying Industrial Design at Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences.

The designer told Dezeen that she created the project after “a tragic case” in her neighbourhood, where someone died and their body wasn’t discovered until much later when it had started to decay.

“I became aware of similar death cases in Berlin and realised through research and interviews that this is an increasingly global phenomenon,” said Ony.

“The deceased are often discovered by family members without any mental preparation and it is a very traumatic experience. Rotten corpses also demand extensive core renovations [to homes] and can leave spaces uninhabited for a long time.”

In Memoriam
In Memoriam was created to encourage community cohesion

Ony explained that she chose polystyrene for the odour detector’s casing for its electrical insulation, while the metal-coated brass that covers the signal lamp oxidises over time and takes on a similar colour and texture to the skin of a corpse.

According to the designer, this intends to remind members of the community that the lamp is in need of polishing – reinforcing its message to care for your neighbours, and further encouraging people to communicate with each other in urban areas.

“In Memoriam translates as ‘to remember someone’. At the moment when the signal lamp is lit, the light not only serves as a signal for the house’s community but also symbolically remembers the deceased person,” reflected Ony.

“The tilting mechanism of the lamp and the slow rising of the light cone should also symbolise the lighting of a mourning candle. I found the name suitable because I would like to not only commemorate the deceased, but also encourage a community to look after each other.”

Other death-related designs include a biodegradable urn by Claesson Koivisto Rune and a “living coffin” created from mushroom mycelium.

The images and video are courtesy of Ony Yan.


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