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Modern wireless sensor systems are characterized by small physical size and limited energy budgets, which in turn result in system designs based on low capability microprocessors and limited range radios. Despite the fact that these sensor nodes are based on low-cost components, wireless sensor network development kits are comparatively expensive, as are the sensor nodes themselves. The wide variety of sensor nodes available, and the limited market size for any one node mean that NRE costs for boards and supporting software dominate the overall cost of the system. Instead of costing a few dollars, “low cost” systems often cost upwards of a hundred dollars each. This project aims to develop a low-cost prototyping platform based on existing open-source PCB designs and software environments as much as possible. In particular, we are using the Arduino low-cost microprocessor platform, the XBEE low-cost Zigbee networking modules, and the open-source TinyOS software system. The paper will explain our experience in using this approach for prototyping marine sensor systems, as part of the SEMAT project.