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October 22, 2017
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Stealth Wear Anti-Drone Scarf in Thermal IR. Photograph courtesy of Adam Harvey.

Stealth Wear Anti-Drone Burqa.
Photograph courtesy of Adam Harvey.

Fashion inspired by drones - it may sound like something out of a sci-fi blockbuster, but it's the idea behind the latest project from Adam Harvey. A technologist by trade, Harvey devotes his free time to experimenting with art and design, and has a special interest in privacy.

Although Harvey spends his days as a software and hardware developer, he says he enjoys dabbling in fashion, which affords him the opportunity to experiment with beauty and functionality. "Approaching this project from the standpoint of making a purely functional coat or parka - that would be something that the military would do," he explains. "I'm interested in making things that you could wear or you could imagine yourself wearing."

Stealth Wear is a collection that "[explores] the aesthetics of privacy and the potential for fashion to challenge authoritarian surveillance." The collection, which was revealed in London on January 17, 2013, comprises two parts: anti-drone garments and the OFF pocket, a small pouch-like accessory that prevents mobile phones from sending out and receiving signals.

Harvey says the inspiration for the project came from recent reports about drones, typically known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The UK's Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that approximately 1,200 drone strikes took place in Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan between 2008 and 2012, with the latter two countries being the targets of the majority of the strikes.

Drones have been appearing more frequently in the American media as of late, particularly with on-going concerns over national security. Last month U.S. President Barack Obama selected his former counter-terrorism adviser John O. Brennan to head up the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan is an important figure in the country's drone program and his position has drawn into question the proposed expansion of the U.S. drone fleet. The New York Times describes these machines as "crucial in fighting terrorism," and explains how "the remotely piloted planes are used to transmit live video from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to American forces, and to carry out air strikes."

The OFF Pocket.
Photograph courtesy of Adam Harvey.

It was this that got Harvey thinking. "It's a hot topic, not just for people who are into privacy," Harvey says. "Drones have captured the imagination and kind of a fear factor of the country."

Drones are designed for visual surveillance, and use many different types of camera, including thermal imaging. But drones don't just come with a military advantage. In February 2012, in light of the Federal Aviation Administration's law on public privacy and drone usage, the New York Times claimed that "the possibilities for drones appear limitless," they can be used in police surveillance, commercial photography and even agriculture - but with our privacy at risk, an expansion in drone use could "force Americans to re-examine how much surveillance they are comfortable with."

"I realised that as drones are coming home more and being used domestically, so will this [thermal imaging] technology," Harvey says. "I think it's a borderline violation of the Fourth Amendment [the right against unreasonable searches and seizures], and I thought it'd be interesting to see how hard it is to block that."

As he began to delve into the world of drones and thermal imaging, Harvey learned from former CBS reporter Mandy Clark, that in Afghanistan people were using space blankets to hide from these military technologies. "That made it very real to me and validated what I was doing as something that was actually going to work," he says. "Realising its potential and how easy it was to make, I decided to go about making some garments. That's how I got started."

For all the research money that goes into developing really cool cameras and technology that ends up violating privacy a little bit, there's hardly any money that goes into off-setting that...that's where I fit in.

The science behind Anti-Drone Wear, according to Harvey, is relatively simple. "There's not a lot of magic behind it," he says. Actually, Harvey and design partner Johanna Bloomfield turned the idea into a reality in about two months. After testing 30 to 40 textiles, the pair settled on silver and nickel coated nylon fabric, with the metals serving as a heat reflector. Harvey and Bloomfield then designed three garments: a hoodie, burqa and hijab-like scarf to appeal not only domestically, but internationally.

Harvey has previously explored areas of privacy with CV Dazzle, an ongoing project that he initiated as a master's student in Telecommunications at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. According to his website, Harvey has created designs for CV Dazzle that "break apart the gestalt of a face, or object, and make it undetectable to computer vision algorithms, in particular face detection." Harvey is also developing Camoflash™, described as an "anti-paparazzi fashion accessory" that prevents photographers from capturing people's images.

"For all the research money that goes into developing really cool cameras and technology that ends up violating privacy a little bit, there's hardly any money that goes into off-setting that," he explains. "That's where I fit in."

And for Harvey, the fun is not only in the development of unique ideas but also in bringing them to life. "I was having this conversation with somebody recently about speculative design and how it's much more interesting when you go one step beyond speculation and you can make it available for someone to buy," he explains.

Indeed, the Stealth Wear collection, despite being quite conceptual, is available to buy through Primitive London, a boutique-gallery that showcases up-and-coming designers from around the world. Since revealing the project in mid-January, Harvey says the response has been "overwhelming," and he's received hundreds of emails from all kinds of people, ranging from academics to "military survivalist individuals."

CV Dazzle. Source: cvdazzle.com.

Liberals and conservatives in the U.S. have gotten wind of his project, and people on both sides of the political divide can see the importance of it; the latter view it as anti-government while the former interpret it as anti-military. However, Harvey insists that Stealth Wear was created for fashion, not fighting.

"The big difference between the garments we make and using a purely functional solution - which would be the space blanket - is that these fabrics are really nice," he says of his Anti-Drone Wear collection. "They're made with silver and are lined with silk. The silver flows just as nicely as the silk, so they end up being really nice garments and they're functional."

Regardless of party affiliation, Harvey hopes that his creations spark conversations about privacy issues, which he believes the public is growing increasingly aware of thanks to Facebook and other social networks.

"It's no longer a tinfoil hat conversation; it's a really mainstream conversation and because of that people understand that it has value and that something like the work I'm doing that protects privacy has value. It's not purely an anti-technology, and I wanted people to realise that."

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