Nowadays when you can watch real-time videos of kittens playing, trains in Tokyo or bears catching salmon in Alaska, watching a coffee pot bubble isn’t very exciting.
But, in 1991, that was the height of technological prowess. Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser wanted to check on the status of the coffee pot in the computer science lab at Cambridge University but didn’t want to jump up every few minutes to do so. If you were in the room with the coffee pot, you were in luck. Otherwise…….
Dr. Stafford-Fraser and his colleagues set up a camera one afternoon to capture black-and-white stills of the pot every few minutes. This worked well for a couple of years by which time the thrill of a grainy, B/W image began to pall – no matter how useful it was. The team decided to modify the server so it could also respond to HTTP requests, and in November 1993 images of their coffee pot went live. The first webcam was born.
Says Dr. Stafford-Fraser, “The image was only updated about three times a minute, but that was fine because the pot filled rather slowly, and it was only greyscale, which was also fine, because so was the coffee.”
The coffee pot cam had a brief, but eventful life (it was even interviewed by the local BBC radio station – OK! Dr. S-F was interviewed) and was shut down in August 2001 as the technology for the coffee pot cam became obsolete and the lab moved to a new location.
Why the coffee pot (not the cam) was bought by Der Spiegel magazine is not explained, but it did and is supposed to be in their offices in Germany. Dr. S-F says, “I don’t think they’ve used it, though. They probably have better taste in coffee! So do we, now.”
Read the full interview with Dr. Stafford-Fraser on PCMag and his (non-technical) biography of the coffee pot cam here.