What was the first webcam actually used for?

Every great invention had to start from somewhere, and this article will explain just how and why the first webcam was created

petra lorens
Created by petra lorens
On Oct 19, 2020

The webcam that we know today was a lot differed in the past. Today webcams are used for a number of different purposes, for example; most of the webcams that are purchased are used for the rapidly growing webcam industry, where girls stream their shows live while they exploit their bodies for customers. They are also used for the health care system, since they are capable of capturing the arterial pulse rate. Some webcams are installed for security purposes at places such as the childcare center, shops, offices and even private areas. They monitor general activity in the area they have been placed in. Some have been used for the purpose of virtual shopping so that the customer is able to virtually see what he or she intends to buy.

Webcams can be added even to instant messaging, where you can send texts with video messages through chat services like AOL Instant Messenger, and even the VoIP services that own Skype. One-to-one communication has become quite popular over the years, and it has reached millions of PC users worldwide. Since the webcam qualities have improved, besides the camgirls, we also have the gamers who stream themselves and their gameplay while playing live. Nevertheless, the performance and the features available with every webcam cam differ by the program and the computer’s operating system, and even with the computer’s processor capabilities.
Since the computer technology moves very fast today, it is hard to remember the life before Internet. However, about nineteen years ago, back in the 90s, the inexperienced world wide web did not have any search engines, what so ever, no social networking sites and of course, no webcams. As any of the great and well-known things, webcams also had to start from somewhere. The first webcam was developed in 1991, and it was used to monitor the Trojan Room with a coffee pot, in the University of Cambridge, the Computer Science Department. As the computer geeks in this college were beavered away with their research projects, just one piece of their equipment was absolutely necessary for their entire team; and that was the coffee percolator. As one of the young computer geeks stated: “One of the main things, that is very important in the computer science research, is the regular flow of caffeine.”

The biggest problem that the scientist had was that the coffee maker was placed in the main computer lab, and since all of them worked in different areas on different floors, they were very far away. Sometimes when they would go to get some coffee, they would lose a lot of time getting there, and even more if the coffee pot was empty. To simply solve this puzzle, Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser and another research scientist called Dr. Paul Jardetzky, have rigged up a camera that would monitor the coffee in the main lab room. The camera would take images 3 times every minute, and they even wrote a software, that allowed the researchers in the department to be able to run those images from the camera, to see if the coffee pot was full or not.
This helped a lot, since it removed the need for the researchers to do any additional physical effort and they avoided emotional distress if they would to go and find the coffee pot empty. However, it was not until November 22nd, in 1993, that the coffee pot camera was introduced to the www. If you thought that watching paint dry was boring, how about watching the coffee pot do nothing at all? Since the camera images were shared on the Internet, thousands of people started checking the Cambridge University to see if that coffee pot was full or not.
The images on the internet for the coffee pot did not vary that much since the pot could either be empty or full or maybe in some more exciting moments it would be a half-full coffee pot, and people could try and guess if the coffee was going down or up. When the word about these images got out, there were millions of tech enthusiasts that were accessing these images from all around the world. Dr. Stafford-Frasner once said that he even received emails from Japan, in which the people asked if it is possible to leave the lights on in the room where the coffee pot is, so that it can be visible in all the time zones. The tourists came all over the world, and they were all directed to the computer lab in the Trojan room where the coffee pot cam was, just to see the images for themselves.

The BBC’s soap opera, called the Archers, was one of the longest running soap operas, which also mentioned the coffee pot cam. As Dr. Johnson once said: “We were all a bit confused by this, to be honest.” Even if it was just one afternoon’s crazy idea, it got a ton of coverage, and fast. About 10 years, and millions of views later, the scientist decided that it was time to move on. The coffee pot software was slowly becoming completely unmaintainable. Since the research software was usually not of the highest quality, they simply wanted to throw away any of the machines that were supporting the coffee pot cam. There were a lot of people who protested against shutting off the pot coffee cam, however, that webcam was eventually shut down. The last image that was captured by the coffee cam was a scientist finger that pressed the off button.
In just 10 years, this went from being a wacky new idea, to a new product that a lot of people knew about, then to an incredibly popular web icon, and finally to something that people actually mourned about when it was finally shut down. Only the Internet was able to make something like this happen so fast. However, if it wasn’t for this simple project, the webcam that we know and love today, might have been totally different.