The Panoptic Astronomical Networked OPtical observatory for Transiting Exoplanets Survey (PANOPTES, www.projectpanoptes.org) project is aimed at identifying transiting exoplanets using a wide network of low-cost imaging units. Each unit consists of two commercial digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras equipped with 85mm F1.4 lenses, mounted on a small equatorial mount. At a few $1000s per unit, the system offers a uniquely advantageous survey eficiency for the cost, and can easily be assembled by amateur astronomers or students. Three generations of prototype units have so far been tested, and the baseline unit design, which optimizes robustness, simplicity and cost, is now ready to be duplicated. We describe the hardware and software for the PANOPTES project, focusing on key challenging aspects of the project. We show that obtaining high precision photometric measurements with commercial DSLR color cameras is possible, using a PSF-matching algorithm we developed for this project. On-sky tests show that percent-level photometric precision is achieved in 1 min with a single camera. We also discuss hardware choices aimed at optimizing system robustness while maintaining adequate cost. PANOPTES is both an outreach project and a scientifically compelling survey for transiting exoplanets. In its current phase, experienced PANOPTES members are deploying a limited number of units, acquiring the experience necessary to run the network. A much wider community will then be able to participate to the project, with schools and citizen scientists integrating their units in the network.