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Unidentified Halo

'Unidentified halo' is a wearable hat that responds to widespread surveillance culture and a lack of biometric privacy in public spaces. The hat is intended to shield the wearer from facial detection on surveillance cameras by creating a halo of infrared light around the face. The project was a collaboration with Shir David.

We imagined this piece as not only a fashion statement, but also an anti-surveillance tool that could be worn by anyone on the street who is concerned about protecting their privacy.

The project began as a subversive “kit” of wearable items that would allow the wearer to prevent their biometric data from being collected. Shir and I were both frustrated with both the ubiquity and the invisibility of the mechanisms of biopower, from surveillance cameras on streets to fingerprint scanners at the airport. We discussed the idea further with several engineers at NYU and they suggested that if we were interested in combating facial recognition algorithms, we could create a wearable that shines infrared light on the user’s face. 

For our initial prototype, we soldered together 22 IR LEDs that are powered by a rechargeable 500mAH lithium battery and monitored by a potentiometer, and then adhered the circuit to a baseball cap. The LEDs are wired along the bill of the hat and the battery is tucked into the rim. We agreed that the hat shouldn’t require technical know-how and the battery could be easily recharged.

Humans can’t see the infrared light unless they are looking through the feed of a surveillance camera, so the wearer won’t draw attention to herself when she wears it on the street.

In the image here, the surveillance camera picks up a halo of light around my face. The infrared light consequently prevents Google’s Cloud Vision platform from detecting my face. When we ran the images through Google’s API, it not only detected Shir’s face but even offered suggestions of her emotion based on facial indicators. My face, on the other hand, went undetected. 

In terms of the user experience, we imagine that this hat could be worn by someone who wants a way to protect his biometric identity from being tracked while he’s in public without causing a stir. Since the human eye can’t see infrared light, the hat doesn’t draw any attention to the wearer.

You can read the Medium article I wrote about the project.


Programmer, UX Designer, Fabricator

Physical Computing, Facial Recognition, Development, Fabrication

October 2016
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