Computed tomography (CT) scanners are great for diagnosing problems in people, but what about cars?

The Fraunhofer Development Center is using the biggest CT scanner it can find to analyze wrecked cars. Researchers hope to gain some insight into how individual components react under the forces of a collision.

Fraunhofer says a CT provides analysts with a three-dimensional view of the wreckage, without disturbing anything. That sounds good, but how do you fit a car in a CT scanner?

Apparently, you just get a bigger scanner. Fraunhofer is building a giant scanner that it says can be used for cars, as well as to detect damage to airplane wings and to scan the contents of shipping containers.

Here’s how Fraunhofer says it will work. A crashed car is hoisted onto a turntable. As it turns, two X-ray detectors on either side scan it, and a computer merges the multiple images generated into a whole, three-dimensional CT scan. The giant scanner has a resolution of 0.8 mm, but its designers hope to get it down to 0.4 mm.

The scans could—theoretically—allow crash investigators to track the weakening or failure of specific parts across an entire car, showing which where forces were directed and how each part of a car’s structure reacted. The question is: will the giant scanners actually fit in any existing crash test labs?

This article, written by Stephen Edelstein, was originally published on Motor Authority, a publishing partner of Popular Science. Follow Motor Authority on Facebook and Twitter.

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