The World’s First Webcam and the Coffee Pot that Made it Famous

What does a coffee pot have to do with the webcam
The first webcam was used to monitor a coffee pot.


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Did you know that the world’s first webcam was invented to watch a coffee pot? Yes, you read that right. A coffee pot. Not a rocket launch, not a panda cub, not a celebrity wedding. A coffee pot.

How it all started with Webcam

Back in 1991, some computer scientists at the University of Cambridge were working on cutting-edge research projects. But they had one problem: they loved coffee, and they hated walking to the coffee machine only to find it empty.

So they came up with a brilliant solution: they hooked up a small camera to the coffee pot and connected it to their internal network. That way, they could check the status of the coffee pot from their desks, and avoid wasting time and energy.

Webcam: How it went viral

The coffee pot cam was a hit among the researchers, but it remained a local phenomenon until 1993, when the World Wide Web was born. One of the scientists, Martyn Johnson, decided to make the coffee pot cam accessible to anyone on the web, using a simple script that copied the latest image to the requester.

Soon, the coffee pot cam became an internet sensation, attracting thousands of viewers from all over the world. People were fascinated by the mundane drama of watching a coffee pot fill up and empty out. Some even set up alerts to notify them when the coffee was ready.

How it ended

The coffee pot cam ran for eight years, until 2001, when the computer lab moved to a new building. The last image of the coffee pot showed a hand reaching to switch off the camera. The news of the shutdown made headlines in major newspapers and magazines.

The coffee pot itself was auctioned on eBay for £3,350 and bought by a German news website. It was later refurbished and switched on again in their office. It is now on permanent loan to a museum in Germany.

Why it matters

The coffee pot cam may seem like a trivial invention, but it was actually a milestone in the history of computer science and the internet. It was the first example of live streaming video, which paved the way for video chats, webcasts, and online surveillance. It also showed how the web could connect people across distances and cultures through shared interests and curiosity.

The coffee pot cam also taught us an important lesson: sometimes, the simplest ideas are the most brilliant ones. And sometimes, all you need is a good cup of coffee.