3-D Headstones to Debut at NFDA Convention

August 5, 2011
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As workers in the space industry look for ways to turn their talents into Earthbound jobs, one group has gone from mapping Mars to re-creating faces of the dearly departed.

They’ve formed a company called LookLikes that is creating three-dimensional images of the deceased to be placed on grave markers. The images cost about $1,000, and the scanning devices the funeral homes will use to help make them are expected to be available for leasing starting in October.

“I feel we can take the aura of the cemetery to a new dimension,” said Craig Nolan, business administrator and engineer placement for LookLikes. “I think the baby boomers are of a different mindset than past generations, and this is something they will embrace.”

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The idea was born after Michael Shulman, managing partner of nonprofit Emerging Growth Institute, gave several presentations to aerospace workers about how to use their space industry skills in private enterprise.

Shulman encouraged brainstorming sessions to generate ideas, from which the headstone plan emerged.

“Technically the system we designed is not based on existing technology, but new technology,” said Shulman, who has taken on the role of science officer with LookLikes. “Rather than a flat surface model typical of Mars or Moon topographical results, ours produces a round space. The space program is flat – ours has hills and valleys.”

The device and finished product has been shown to local funeral directors and has been mostly well received.

“Families today are looking for more ways to memorialize their loved one through personalization,” said Tracy Huggins, director of operations for Baldwin-Fairchild Cemeteries, Funeral Homes and Crematory.

Funeral directors will lease the scanner, and the image will be sent to a manufacturing facility.

The scanner records the deceased’s face by using multiple lasers that fire at the same time, and a computer stores the three-dimensional image.

The image is sent into a model-making machine that produces the form in a weather- and sun-resistant polymer-based material.

A consultant has developed a bonding agent specifically for headstones.

Patents are being sought for the image technique, polymer-based material and bonding agent.

The research was funded by the workers themselves.

Although LookLikes has made eight finished headstones, they are waiting until the National Funeral Directors Association in October in Chicago before officially marketing their work.

Early publicity about the headstones has already prompted some unusual calls, including a request for the image of a cat that’s been done.

“The pet surprised me – quite frankly, we never thought of it,” Shulman said. “Someone called and said, ‘Can you do my cat?’ “

More Information: Looklikes

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