Date of Award

Winter 2009

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Electrical/Computer Engineering

Committee Director

Sacharia Albin

Committee Member

K. Vijayan Asari

Committee Member

Mounir Laroussi

Committee Member

John Cooper


In this dissertation, a system allowing a visually impaired person to interact with his environment is developed using modern, low-power wireless communications techniques. With recent advances in wireless sensor networks, open-source operating systems, and embedded processing technology, low-cost devices have become practically feasible as a personal notification system for impaired people. Additionally, text-to-speech capabilities can now be employed without special application specific integrated circuits (ASICs), allowing low-cost, general-purpose processors to fill a niche that once required expensive semiconductors.

The system takes advantage of 802.15.4 and media access control (MAC) protocols offered by the open source operating system TinyOS. Important characteristics of these new standards that make them ideal for interface with humans are short range, low- power, and open-source software. To facilitate research and development in use and integration of such devices, we developed a hardware platform to allow exploration of possible future network architectures with multiple options for interfacing with the user. Our Visually Impaired Notification System (VINS) allows unprecedented awareness of the environment and has been simulated with multiple nodes using a modification of the TinyOS "Dissemination" protocol. This dissertation outlines the hardware platform, demonstration of a working prototype, and simulations of how the system would work in its intended environment. We envision this system being used as a testbed allowing further research of other communications and message-delivery techniques. Additionally, the research has contributed directly to the TinyOS project and offered new insight into power management in embedded systems. Finally, through the research effort we were able to contribute to the open source movement and have produced software in four languages used in three countries with over 1500 downloads.