The interactive 3D Virtual Autopsy Table


October 20, 2009

The Virtual Autopsy Table is demonstrated by Prof Anders Persson, CMIV, at the Health ministerial meeting in Jönköping, Sweden (Images: Norrköping Visualization Center/CMIV)

The Virtual Autopsy Table is demonstrated by Prof Anders Persson, CMIV, at the Health ministerial meeting in Jönköping, Sweden (Images: Norrköping Visualization Center/CMIV)

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Swedish researchers have developed an interactive touchscreen 3D autopsy table that allows pathologists to examine virtual representations of real bodies in minute detail and from numerous viewing angles. Using data provided by scans of an actual body, the table allows the user to remove layers such as skin and muscle, add or remove tissue and circulatory systems, zoom in and out and cut through sections with a virtual knife. The video below is a "must watch".

The Virtual Autopsy Table has been developed by Norrköping Visualization Center in cooperation with Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization using science and technology that is already being used in real world criminal investigation to complement real autopsies.

Explore the human body

The victim's body is placed on an examination table under a CT scanner and/or MRI machine and processed using software developed by the researchers. A CT scan takes only 20 seconds and displays the bones, gases and any foreign objects in the body. A specially-developed technique known as quantative synthetic MRI allows for scanning of dead bodies and provides data on soft tissue. The software converts the layer by layer data sets provided by the scans and builds a 3D virtual visualization of the victim's body.

The visualization allows an examiner to look at a body in microscopic detail. Going inside the body is simply a matter of removing the virtual skin and muscle layers to reveal the skeleton and organs. The examiner can zoom in and out, view cross-sections using a virtual scalpel and control the level of layer transparency with relative ease.

Whereas an actual invasive autopsy can take some time to complete, the cause of death using a virtual autopsy could be established in as little as 15 minutes. Examining injuries like bone fractures can be very complicated and current photographic evidence-gathering is limited. However, using the visualization techniques can offer a unique viewing opportunity and accurately show what an injury looks like.

Witness for the prosecution

Photographic evidence presented in criminal prosecutions can be difficult to explain to those unfamiliar with pathology and can often make for gruesome viewing. Showing the evidence as a 3D representation of the victim makes explanations more relevant and easier to understand. Researchers claim to have proven that the virtual autopsies provide more information than their real-world counterparts.

As well as potentially proving extremely useful where cultures do not allow physical autopsies, the research could also prove beneficial to the living.

Better than reality

All of this visualization technology has been brought together in a demonstration table which gives users the chance to interact with volumetric 3D data sets from two actual bodies, a traffic accident victim and a living patient who was being treated for cerebral hemorrhaging. Just like examiners using the virtual autopsy software, Virtual Autopsy Table users can remove virtual layers to look inside the body, cut through the body with a virtual knife and zoom in and out using a multitouch surface.

According to Project Manager Thomas Rydell: "We are currently using an LCD-based diffuse illumination multitouch table, it can handle multiple tracking points and fiducials. The volume renderer developed at Linköping University allows us to do the rendering at interactive frame rates with very low latency on a regular gaming card, in this case a NVIDIA GTX 295, the fastest gaming card on the market. The rendering is done in full HD resolution."

Future plans

The project team currently has only one working mobile demonstration table but is looking to install tables in a number of selected public institutions from next year which will no doubt be of great interest to Quincy or Silent Witness fans as well as students of anatomy and, of course, technology lovers. The working demonstration model currently travels the globe to be shown at various technology and healthcare conferences and events.

Further reading and updates are available at the project website.

Watch the video below for a demonstration - an autopsy without the stomach-churning gore and nauseating smells.

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

This would seem to be yet another highly effective tool, when further developed, that ethical researchers could add to their arsenal, one that doesn\'t involve the use of a sentient being. Thank you, Paul, for sharing! (Did I mention that I want one? ;-) )

Alexa Baker

"Swiss researchers have" or Swedish?

Magdalena Malachowicz

Well spotted and many thanks, correction made.


I usually reserve the word innovative to describe something which presents a new way to interface with the subject matter. While touchscreens aren't new, the uses for a multi-touch large format horizontal surface always seems to be quite innovative. I particularly like the Reactable demonstrations and the map/photo applications. This application makes me wonder why is it better than manipulating it on a regular computer? I'm not saying it isn't because its obvious that it is more than just a fad or passing fancy. There's definitely an unnatural element to using the keyboard/mouse to manipulate visual objects. I think as humans, it is very possible we are hard wired to use both our hands and a mouse is simply not as intuitive to our brains as we might think. There is also a level of simplification that goes unnoticed. The demonstrations purposefully ignore the hum drum file system operations, and stick to the clean direct interaction between human and, in this case, 3d images of the human body. Without reminding us of the known difficulty of installing drivers, setting the proper display parameters, and let's not forget manipulating the scanned data, we are coerced into believing the situation of "what if everything works the way it is supposed to." The glimpse of the computer being so unobtrusive and helpful is frankly intoxicating. I can't wait.

Paul, another great job! Thanks for making my online reading enjoyable.


this technology combined with interactive video conferencing would pave the way for at-home \'medical school\' courses. given the global need for doctors, para-med, super-nurses, etc., and the lack of physical facilities to meet this demand (buildings, labs, equipment, student housing, qualified teachers and so on...), this could be the key breakthrough that would permit students to acquire the majority of their training off-campus. they could complete their training with a short stint on campus to properly round off their skills and abilities. existing medical training infrastructure around the globe would be able to graduate multiple classes every year in place of just one.


its a revolution in the field of forensic medicine

Shahzad Khalil
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