Get your hands on gigapixel goodness: Duke University’s ultra high-res camera project hits Kickstarter


posted Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 4:30 PM EST

Last summer, we told you about Duke University's prototype AWARE-series gigapixel cameras, impressive devices that can capture and stitch a gigapixel image from an array containing hundreds of cameras, each with 14-megapixel resolution. What makes AWARE particularly impressive is that, since all of the cameras are synchronized and capture their image simultaneously, it avoids the stitching errors for moving subjects that are common in gigapixel imaging.

Given the incredible amount of hardware -- both electronic and optical -- involved, AWARE cameras are relatively compact, as well.

Duke University's AWARE-2 camera prototype. Image provided by Duke University. Click for a bigger picture!

Duke University's original AWARE-2 camera prototype.
Image provided by Duke University.

For the last year or so, things have been pretty quiet, but that's just changed. Duke spinoff Applied Quantum Technologies, which takes the university's research and readies it for commercialization, has itself spun off a new company to bring AWARE to market. That new company, branded as Aqueti -- and with a cute logo hinting at the multi-optic camera layout -- debuts with a Kickstarter campaign that gives gigapixel fans a chance to participate. If your pockets are deep enough, you could even take home some raw data from an AWARE camera, or take part in a gigapixel shoot of your very own. (Gigapixel wedding photos, anybody?)

Aqueti is planning to release four different cameras based on the AWARE project technology, spanning everything from the base AWARE-2 with around 160 cameras at 14 megapixels apiece, and running up to models with a whopping 1,000 cameras. Each camera features a 1/2.3-inch image sensor and 1.4-micron pixel size, uses automatic exposure, and can be focused either automatically or manually. ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 1,600 equivalents, and each sensor yields a native 12-bit depth.

Since last year, the AWARE-2 camera design has progressed significantly, but it's still not final -- Aqueti notes that the housing will be changing in the not-too-distant future.

Even at the bottom end of the range with the AWARE-2, all those cameras capture a huge amount of information -- around 2.26 gigapixels before stitching, and 0.99 gigapixels after stitching is complete. That's a final resolution of 55,000 x 18,000 pixels, from a device weighing 55 pounds. And it's not just capable of stills, either -- the Aqueti AWARE-2 can also capture gigapixel video at a staggering 10 frames per second, and up to 60 fps is achievable with 4x4 pixel binning. Those images, it's worth noting, come from a whopping amount of silicon. The active sensor area between the 160 cameras in AWARE-2 equates to 110 x 36.8mm after masking.

And now, thanks to the Kickstarter campaign, you can shoot your private event with an AWARE camera prototype for about the same cost as an entry-level family sedan. US$10,000 gets you total control over the camera and the shoot at your event, anywhere within North Carolina. (Duke and Aqueti are based in Durham, NC.) You can shoot as many images as you like, and you'll jointly own the output, which would presumably allow commercial use. Or for US$2,500, you can control a shoot but without gaining rights to the captured images.

A Gigagon monocentric lens sits in front of the many individual cameras, each of which have their own optics, as shown in this prototype rendering.

If your pockets don't run so deep, but you want to play with output from an AWARE camera, you can buy non-commercial rights to one image for US$450, and to 25 images for US$1,000 -- and that includes both the raw and stitched data. (If you opt for 25 shots, they'll be provided on a USB drive or Blu-ray disc.)

If you just want to take part in a gigapixel shot, you and your friends can have your own gigapixel "snapshot" taken for US$300 including hosting of the gigapixel image, which you can then embed on your own site, or pay another US$300 for a 30-inch by 120-inch print of the shot. And if you're looking only to say you were there and took part in bringing gigapixel photography to market, you can chip in as little as US$1, with smaller rewards starting at US$10.

More details can be found on the Aqueti website.

AWARE camera prototype in assembly. The many distinct cameras are being mounted into the rear of the camera's dome.