Mixed reality in forensics: Can we do without autopsies?

Mixed reality glasses are increasingly being used in forensic medicine to visualise injury patterns and a sequence of events. Is there still a need for the classic autopsy?

Will MR glasses revolutionise autopsies?

In a recently published study, MR glasses were used in various autopsies to help forensic practitioners visualise and simulate autopsies (Working with Forensic Practitioners to Understand the Opportunities and Challenges for Mixed-Reality Digital Autopsy; DOI: 10.1145/3544548.3580768).1

Forensic institutes have traditionally relied on integrating information from a variety of sources such as physical evidence from crime scenes and autopsies, as well as police reports, medical histories, and imaging. But increasingly this information is being digitised and 3D reconstructions from CT and MRI imaging are becoming the focus of investigation. Currently, such images are viewed on 2D screens. However, this type of interaction has its limitations.

For example, determining the cause of death from such 2D applications in the medical workplace requires extensive training, experience and anatomical knowledge to mentally reconstruct the 3D reality. Furthermore, it is cumbersome to use a computer during a body examination while hands are covered with gloves and contaminated with body fluids.

Positive study results on mixed reality technologies in forensic medicine

Users were enthusiastic as the study progressed. The mixed reality model was an immersive experience where users could intuitively and easily reconstruct virtual patients from CT data and better understand the cause of death. In addition, the MR glasses are suitable for teaching younger colleagues in forensic medicine.

Emerging mixed reality technologies offer the possibility to make this digital information available in a context that is closer to a traditional physical autopsy and provides a natural spatial mapping to visualise and interact with the 3D data.

New forensic technologies: cheaper in the long term, but unexplored

In the long term, technologies that can accurately replicate or exceed the accuracy of autopsies, and merge information from multiple sources, could reduce the need for physical dissection. Dissection is time-consuming, expensive and stressful for families. In Switzerland, for example, an autopsy costs about 3000 thousand Swiss francs, while a CT scan costs only 900 francs.2 However, inspecting the body from the outside and inside with such technologies is still unexplored.