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The very first pieces of clothing were made to protect us, for example from harsh weather conditions or injuries. Our project Ignotum (Latin for “the unknown”) has a very similar purpose, as it protects its wearer, but from a more modern hazard – CCTVs equipped with AI person recognition algorithms.




The project was designed as part of the Re-FREAM consortium, a Horizon 2020 project funded by the EU. Re-FREAM is about connecting people from different fields and backgrounds to work together in connecting fashion with technology. Together with our technical partners from the Fraunhofer IZM, Stratasys, Profactor and Empa we created a garment that helps its wearer to become invisible to the virtual domain. Due to the pandemic, the co-researching phase was mainly done within our studio and shared with the partners via online meetings. Later on, we were able to work more closely together with our partners from the Fraunhofer IZM based in Berlin, especially with Christian Dils, Max Marwede and Robin Hoske.

How AI CCTV systems work

For us, the first step in designing our project was to understand how these systems work. Together with Markus Mau from Studio Moux, we determined that normally these systems work in a three-step process: to begin with, the AI filters out human beings from other objects in the scene by slicing the image in little tiles, analyzing contrast values within those, and then calculates the probability of recognition. It then applies a virtual skeleton to the found persons for better tracking of movement, after which high-quality facial images are sent to a server for deep analysis. The first two steps happen “on the edge”, meaning in real-time within the camera. Only the third one needs more processing power and data bandwidth.

Testing rig and virtual prototyping

As both functional and ergonomic geometry, a cylinder is ideal for activating the responsive material in grip applications. The change of surface from smooth to rough is controlled by a simple rotation mechanism. After structural optimization with various paper models, the geometry was also successfully tested with a model made of durable polyamide produced using the SLS printing process.

Prototyping of the first garment

After co-creating the electric concept with Christian Dils, he and his colleagues at the Fraunhofer IZM went into full action. Kamil Garbacz and Christian developed the PCB that would distribute the power to our 9 LEDs. Together with Lars Stagun (Fraunhofer IZM), we bonded all the electronic parts to the textile cable (Amohr Technische Textilien) prepared by Sebastian Hohner (Fraunhofer IZM). This process is called NCA bonding (non-conductive-adhesive bonding, internally at the IZM also called “e-textile bonding”), and creates a strong connection between electronic boards and textiles (and as a result strong electrical bonds). The first garment prototypes were sown in-house. For the final prototype, we worked with Mira Thul-Thellmann. The design was going to be a poncho/throw-over type of apparel.

The final construction

Ignotum is designed in layers – the base layer, which gives it a basic stability, a semi-transparent second layer that creates in union with the base a moirée effect (to further enhance the AI confusion), and all interlaced with the technical components like power cables, PCBs, LEDs and light fibers.

"We followed a modular and repairable design philosophy for our kit, which made the assembly process very simple. Even when we accidentally damaged one of the LED boards, we were able to fix it in no time."

Jan Wertel

Final tests of the prototype

After creating the prototype, we wanted to check if it still worked. We tested it in different settings and with different backgrounds, and even in quite challenging environments (meaning with clean contrasts as in the image below), the poncho worked well in bringing the recognition numbers down to a level where they are not strong enough for further processing.

Together with Maximilian Krenn, Anna Röder, Markus Mau and Tim Schütze.

All in all, it was a fantastic journey and a great opportunity to work on the project. We learned a lot and are very thankful to our partners and collaborators as well as the Re-FREAM consortium.

Re-FREAM is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 825647