15 March 2010
Researchers are going to create a robot that will let forensics experts perform a virtual autopsy without cutting open the body. This will help preserve the corpse if required for further investigation in the future
Michael Thali and his team also use a specialised robot in their work. They call this forensic high-tech assistant Virtobot. In the Virtopsy laboratory, it projects a light bar onto the corpse being examined. The imaged body contours are recorded in high definition using a digital stereo camera. At the same time, the Virtobot images the texture of the skin.
“Then we harmonise these surface images with the 3D data of the entire body”, explains Lars Ebert, who programmed Virtobot.
Forensic doctors are thus provided with a high-precision, three-dimensional image of the body and can examine it on-screen from all angles, both externally and internally.
This combination of medical imaging, surgical navigation and robotics means that for the first time ever cadavers can be digitally preserved and autopsies conducted again, even years later, for instance when new evidence is turned up in an unsolved case.
Digitally captured data have meanwhile been approved as evidence in the courts, but only when validated by a conventional autopsy. In view of the precision and efficiency of the virtual autopsy, Michael Thali is convinced that the future of forensic medicine belongs to the Virtobot.