Ever wondered how webcams were invented? Although it seems like tech companies might’ve created them taking inspiration from Orwell’s dystopian predications, turns out that it was something far simpler: a coffee machine.
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The Trojan Room coffee pot was a coffee machine located next to the so-called Trojan Room in the computer lab of the University of Cambridge. As many of the scientists and researchers worked in different labs and floors, it was a very frustrating situation to arrive at the coffee machine, only to discover it was empty. In order to overcome this, back in 1991 Dr Paul Jardetzky and another research scientist, set up a camera to monitor the Trojan room coffee pot.
This camra would grab images three times a minute and they wrote software that would allow researchers in the department to see the images from their computer on their internal computer network. This way they could know when it needed refilling and so the problem was solved.
Computer scientist Dr Martyn Johnson was not one of those connected to the internal computer network at the Cambridge lab, and was unable to run the coffee pot cam software. So in 1993, after studying the capabilities of the fledgling world wide web, he decided it would be easy to run:
I just built a little script around the captured images.
The first version was probably only 12 lines of code, probably less, and it simply copied the most recent image to the requester whenever it was asked for.
Word got out of this simple yet ingenious invention and before long a plethora of tech geeks from around the world were accessing images of the Trojan room coffee pot. People even visited from all over the world to see the technology for themselves.
Following this, ten years later the software had become unmaintainable and they decided it was time to get rid. But its legacy lived on as the technology had inspired the first webcam and the first commercial webcam called QuickCam entered the markerplace back in 1994. So next time you’re having webcam sex with your partner, live streaming a dumb video or doing what I do and covering yours up with Blu-Tack, just remember that you’ve got the Trojan Room coffee pot to thank/blame for that. You learn something new every day.