Projects - AWARE Gigapixel Imaging

Image from AWARE Camera

Full-resolution, pan-and-zoom version of this image.

Other AWARE images hosted on Gigapan.


Distant Focus worked with Duke University to develop multi-gigapixel camera systems based on a multi-scale design and was responsible for the electronics platform, firmware, ultra-compact sensor modules, and system integration. Distant Focus continues to use the electronics architecture for other multi-sensor systems, as well as building other full systems derived from the AWARE optical architecture.

Cross-section showing ball lens render and micro-optics.

Cross-section showing ball lens render and micro-optics.

Multi-scale Optics

The multi-scale optical architecture utilizes a large primary objective which produces an intermediate spherical focal plane, sections of which are then re-imaged onto flat sensor focal planes using barrels of optics called micro-optics. The image area of each of the sensors slightly overlaps with its neighbors allowing a single contiguous image to be stitched together from hundreds of individual scenes. This differs from the traditional approach of using a full-sized objective for each sensor because all of the micro-optics can be small and relatively simple, and the single large primary objective results in excellent light-collection for the full system.

Ball lens, intermediate focal plane, and micro-optic.

Ball lens, intermediate focal plane, and micro-optic

Phase I system without cover panels

Phase II system without cover panels


The AWARE 2 camera is a Phase I prototype developed to prove the potential of the multi-scale optical design over a quick six-month development schedule. It used 14 megapixel monochrome sensors and was originally intended to be a fixed-focus system but was later upgraded with electronic focus control.

  • Field of View: 120° circular
  • Pixel Angular Extent (IFOV): 40 µrad
  • Number of Image Sensors: 150 (226 max)
  • Volume: 30" x 30" x 20"
  • Mass: 160 lbs (72.5 kg)
  • Power: 775 W (1200 W max)
  • Image Resolution: 55000 x 33000 (1.8 GPixels)

Phase II system without cover panels

Phase II system without cover panels


The AWARE 10 camera is a Phase II prototype that was built off of lessons learned with the AWARE 2 system. The goal was to create a more-efficient system with a higher pixel-count while reducing the system volume and maintaining the overall mass. This required significantly reducing the size and weight of the processing electronics and sensor modules.

  • Field of View: 100° Horizontal, 60° Vertical
  • Pixel Angular Extent (IFOV): 26 µrad
  • Number of Image Sensors: 382
  • Volume: 25.7" x 24.2" x 21.3"
  • Mass: 190 lbs
  • Power: 1300 W
  • Image Resoluton: 70000 x 42000 (2.94 Gpixels)

Links to some other members of the AWARE project team:

For more information on the AWARE system integration and sensor module design, see the links below:

System Integration

The AWARE system integration for both the Phase I and Phase II prototypes consisted of mounting the optical assembly, designing compact electronics modules, mounting the electronics, thermal management, and designing outer covers. Due to the large number of sensors in each system, special attention needed to be paid to assembly strategy, and this was also a major concern during design.

Sensor Module

The sensor module design for the AWARE 2 camera system was designed to be a compact system that would also allow pistoning the sensor itself to provide focus. To make a more compact system, the AWARE 10 sensor module minimized the sensor footprint as far as possible and positioned all electronics behind the sensor itself using a novel assembly process.