Chris Harrison - CTTEC - Carnegie Mellon University

Inventor - Chris Harrison

Chris Harrison is a Ph.D. student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He completed his BA and MS in Computer Science at New York University in 2005. Harrison is a recipient of a Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellowship and is Editor-in-Chief of XRDS, ACM's new flagship magazine for students, launching Summer 2010. Before coming to CMU, Harrison worked at IBM Research and AT&T Labs. He has since worked at Microsoft Research and Disney Imagineering

Currently, Harrison is investigating how to make small devices "big" through novel sensing technologies and interaction techniques. Designers have yet to figure out a good way to miniaturize devices without simultaneously shrinking their interactive surfaces. This has lead to small screens, cramped keyboards, diminutive jog wheels, and similar - all of which has diminished the usability of mobile devices, and most importantly, has prevented us from realizing their full potential

Harrison is pursing one approach that has proven particularly fruitful: appropriating interactive surfaces from the environment. In other words, temporarily “stealing” surface area from commonplace objects, such as walls and furniture. These are typically many times larger than small mobile devices and can allow for large, expressive and accurate input.

Scratch Input, an early project, was inspired by the realization that mobile devices often rest on large tables. Harrison developed a technology that allows devices to acoustically sense finger movements on a table’s surface, essentially turning the whole table into an ad hoc gestural touch surface. Gravity acoustically couples the device to the table; when finished, users can simply pick up their devices and go.

Many subsequent research projects have extended the vision and feasibility of appropriated interaction surfaces. Harrison’s most recent project, Skinput, provides touch-screen like functionality right on the human body. In particular, bio-acoustic sensors listen inside the body (much like a doctor’s stethoscope) and localize where finger taps are occurring on the body. Coupled with a pico-projector, users can click buttons and navigate menus right on their skin. Importantly, the sensors are non-invasive; the current prototype is worn as an armband.

Harrison is already hard at work on the next project, and aims to complete his dissertation work in the next few years.

Chris's Research Page

Scratch Input


Human-Computer Interaction Institute


Inventor's Spotlight