The Surprising Connection Between The First Webcam And Coffee

The webcam is now ubiquitous, especially in the pandemic Zoom world we live in. This mini, built-in camera is now a key component of most laptop computers and has been incredibly vital in the way we communicate, stay connected, have work meetings, go to class, and socialize, as so many of our interactions have become remote. It's such an ingrained part of the way that we interact online, in fact, that we probably never give a second thought to this technology that we so rely on — or how it came to be.

This was not always the case, however. Back when computer researchers were developing new ways to use the internet and implement technological advances, they were acutely aware of the hardware they relied on to do their jobs. We're not talking about the webcam, though. The computer scientists working away in the lab were particularly aware of their coffee maker.

The computer scientists at Cambridge University's Trojan Room computer lab drank a lot of coffee (via Open Culture). A lot. One of the researchers, Quentin Stafford-Fraser, told the outlet, "We only had one coffee filter machine between us ... However, being highly dedicated and hard-working academics, we got through a lot of coffee, and when a fresh pot was brewed, it often didn't last long."

A need to monitor the coffee pot soon developed and this is actually what led to the invention of the first webcam.

The first webcam livestreamed a coffee pot

Admittedly, the computer scientists at Cambridge University were drinking a bit too much coffee to stay wired and awake to do their work, and so keeping an eye on the coffee maker became a priority. They didn't want to waste time going all the way over to the one shared coffee pot in the building only to discover there was no coffee, so they aimed a camera at the machine to keep track of its levels (via BBC). Three times a minute, the camera transmitted images of the pot and its coffee levels on an internal system, starting in 1991.

Eventually, internet technology improved and image-based web browsers were created. On November 22, 1993, that same coffee pot stream went live to the web and the coffee pot was captured by history's first-ever streaming webcam. People all over the world logged on to see the stream, which was broadcast continuously until 2001. The Trojan Room coffee pot itself became so famous it eventually sold for £3,350 on eBay, and it was all because of the way the first webcam was used to keep an eye on it for years.