AI & Robotics Align with the Future of Fashion Design

AI & Robotics Align with the Future of Fashion Design

Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Fashion Innovation Agency

Last week, I attended a talk at LCF (London College of Fashion) hosted by the Centre for Fashion Enterprise. This edition’s theme was about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Robotics.

Three experts spoke individually about their work and then participated in a panel discussion, fleshing out the areas in which AI and Robotics can relate to fashion, and how these two fields will align in the future.

Matthew Drinkwater was the first to speak; he heads up LCF’s Fashion Innovation Agency and works at the crossroads of fashion, retail and technology. He talked about the misconceptions of AI, demonstrating its polarizing effect; people seem to think it’ll bring forth either Armageddon or Utopia, whereas its development is likely to be much slower, and less dramatic. He also assuaged fears for the future, explaining that Google is working on a “kill switch” for Deep Mind in case the machines really take over!

He gave the example of IBM Watson working in collaboration with Marchesa on a dress for the Met Gala – also intimating that Watson’s breadth of capability was barely conveyed in the process.

Key Message: Using AI will enable designers to create more time.

Fashion week schedules are overflowing and seasons are merging. Maybe using AI will be the key to creating more time, and breathing space, within the fashion calendar.

Karolina Kurkova in Marches x IMB Watson dress at Met Gala 2016

Next up was Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara, a researcher in robotics at King’s College London. He explained the basis for intelligence: “even if you remove the brain, intelligence can work.” It’s the idea that circuits in the body can synthesize in the same way as the brain and that perception and action are intrinsically linked. Engineers can transfer this type of sensory intelligence to robots, without the need for a robotic brain as such.

He went on to showcase how these technological developments can be used in healthcare: using an exo-garment it would be possible to program body muscles to evolve, and get some to work out more than others. Robots could also be programmed to “feel” in the same way a human finger feels, so doctors could examine patients remotely.

Key Message: the only way these developments will be accepted is if fashion designers create aesthetically pleasing healthcare garments.

It’s a message we’ve heard time and again, more tech and fashion collaboration are occurring (fashtech) but technologists are crying out for business cases so maybe fashion designers aren’t taking advantage of tech innovation enough.

King's College London

Lastly, Brooke Roberts took the floor. Brooke is a radiographer and knitwear designer, combining science with technology and fashion. She showcased her knitwear patterns, which are inspired by brain scans and also elaborated on her collaboration with Holition and InMoov to create a robot for fashion presentations. The project explores how interactive robotic technology can enhance fashion design.

Key Message: Designers and consumers need to open their minds to technology and science.

There’s so much that could be achieved with collaborations between fashion and technology, and the likes of Brooke Roberts shows us that these worlds are not so far apart.

Brooke Roberts Knitwear Design


Key Points from the Panel Discussion:

 “The fashion industry has a massive issue with accepting a new way of design… technology can transform the way designers think about that process.”Matthew Drinkwater

The fashion industry is paradoxically resistant to change… I don’t see that the fashion industry will warmly take on these technologies.” – Brooke Roberts

 “From conception to delivery, engineers should work with fashion designers.”Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara

 “People assume that humans are better at driving than machines – they're categorically not.”Brooke Roberts

 “Technologists may attack the fashion industry regardless of fashion designers – as with every other industry.” – audience member

 “None of the jobs we do today can be done without manmade technology.” – Dr. Thrishantha Nanayakkara

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