The Trojan Rooms Webcam: Ubiquitous technology can come from unusual beginnings: Here Haydn Thorne tells us that your webcam’s ancestor was nothing more than a coffee monitor.
In 1993, the Internet was in its infancy; a specialised tool in almost sub-beta form that only those involved in its research and development had any useful access to. As a technological era, the 1990s were dominated by self-contained appliances whose only eternal connections were either to another device (video recorder to television, for instance) and to the power socket, without which it wouldn’t function at all. Most devices were completely solitary in their digital endeavours and none, bar the telephone, required a connection to any kind of external network and not a single device on the market connected to anything even remotely resembling the Internet.
However, in one forward thinking corner of the world there was something quite remarkable happening, although nobody involved it its execution would have agreed to that accolade; to them, it was just a means to an end.
If you’d spent some time in the Computer Science department at Cambridge University in the early 90s and fancied a cup of coffee, you would have noticed a camera hooked up to a local area network and pointing directly at the only coffee pot in the building. You’d probably have asked about what on earth the cream of the UK’s technical crop were doing filming a coffee pot. Then, somebody like Paul Jardetzky, who wrote the program for the coffee pot camera, would have explained that it was a simple and practical way for anybody to see the pot from anywhere in the building, thus negating the need for wasted trips across the grounds only to be met with an empty coffee pot.
So, take the necessity for caffeine, the fuel for many eureka moments; some slightly lazy Cambridge research fellows and some state-of-the-art equipment hanging around, and you have a recipe for something game changing – even though it wasn’t considered to be at the time by those who had developed it.
The Trojan Room coffee cam soldiered on with its single, unremarkable duty of letting those logged on users know if there was coffee in the pot. In fact, it carried on with its coffee over-watch duties until it was finally disconnected on the 22nd August 2001. Some years after the first webcams found their way into the homes of tech savvy customers; all of them unaware of the technology’s humble grandparent. Only since it was disconnected has the Trojan Room Coffee Cam become something of a networking legend.