Say goodbye to smeared screens and cracked glass, Chris Harrison has done it again. The prolific computer scientist's latest creation, Skinput, turns the human body into a giant touchscreen.
Developed as a response to the increasingly uncomfortable miniaturization of modern keypads, the third year Ph.D. student in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) produced Skinput with Microsoft researchers Dan Morris and Desney Tan. Harrison had already developed a way to turn ordinary tabletops into finger input surfaces, but says it wasn't enough.
"We strap iPods and other devices onto our arms. Why not utilize all the external surface area that's already with us?" said Harrison. "What's great about skin, unlike tables, is that it travels with us."
At this stage, the Skinput armband contains a pico projector that displays the 'touchpad' on the user's hand or forearm, along with biosensors that recognize skin taps on corresponding locations of the body, based on bone and soft tissue variations.
The possibilities are staggering. Among other examples, Harrison envisions a future device no larger than a small stack of coins, worn around the wrist or bicep, with all the capabilities of an iPhone. Imagine typing an urgent email onto a projection on your hand.
The world has noticed. Harrison and his colleagues will be presenting their paper at the ACM Computer-Human Interaction Conference in April, where they've already been awarded one of 14 Best Paper Awards out of more than 1,300 submitted. In addition, Harrison recently won one of 10 coveted Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellowships.
He credits his time at Carnegie Mellon.
"My training and my inspiration come from the people that I work with," he explained. "The graduate students in our HCI Ph.D. program are the smartest bunch of students in the world. They inspire me every day, and my advisor, Scott Hudson, does the same. It's not an accident that I'm able to create these new technologies. It's the environment that I'm in."
Harrison's larger goals include teaching others and bringing useful new technologies into the public domain, but his research has brought a welcome surprise.
"As someone who grew up loving technology, getting emails from people all around the world saying, 'This project is so cool, I'm thinking of studying computer science,' is an incredible reward. To get other people excited about technology and interested in pursuing technology in their education and careers is an extra bonus," he said.