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U.S. Air Force Sets Up High-Tech System for “Virtual Autopsies”

A system that allows a cadaver to be scanned in high-resolution, so that autopsies can be performed virtually.

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Virtopsy

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Scientists at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, have announced a striking innovation in autopsy science: Their so-called Virtopsy creates highly-detailed 3-D images of a cadaver–thus allowing the images to be sent around the world for immediate evaluation, or saved for a future date, when more evidence and better science might be available.

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According to MedGadget, the system has already been installed stateside, at the Dover Air Force Base, where military doctors use it to perform autopsies on soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The system’s creators say it has several advantages: The bodies can remain intact, ensuring, for example, a burial that respects the family’s religious strictures; the data can be saved and/or sent on elsewhere; findings could be stored in a database, for medical comparison; and it can lead to standardized autopsies, which also don’t require entire labs filled with equipment and staff.

The system combines two established technologies. The outside images of the body are gathered by a “Virtobot“–a robotic arm of the sort you’d find on a car assembly line, loaded with a stereoscopic cameras. By rotating along the length of the body, the cameras can capture a 3-D image of it, down to the skin texture. Pictures of the body’s interior are provided by a CT scanner

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We’re following up with the Air Force to get more details on the story. Watch this space.

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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