The First Webcam Was Invented to Check Coffee Levels Without Getting Up


Necessity may be the mother of invention, but laziness is definitely its father. Case in point, here’s an interesting tidbit of imaging history: the first webcam ever was actually invented by lazy students at Cambridge University who didn’t want to waste a trip to the nearby coffee pot if it was going to be empty when they got there.

This coffee machine that was the inspiration for the world’s first webcam was located in a corridor just outside The Trojan Room in the old computer lab at Cambridge University. In 1991, too many trips to an empty coffee pot led Dr. Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Paul Jardetzky to invent the world’s first webcam to help late night studiers and programmers keep an eye on coffee levels.

A sample still from the first webcam (left) and the last photo the webcam ever shot (right)

A sample still from the first webcam (left) and the last photo the webcam ever shot (right)

Once switched on, the camera would display a 129×129 pixel grayscale picture of the coffee pot at 1 frame per second on the user’s desktop. Ironically, the “webcam” actually predates the “web” by a couple of years, but as soon as the World Wide Web went up, the service was connected to the internet.

The camera was actually switched off in August of 2001, and all that’s left if you try and pull the feed is a link to the last ever picture the webcam took. The coffee machine itself was auctioned off on eBay for over $5,000 to German magazine Der Spiegel, where it was refurbished and put back to work by Krups.

(via Wikipedia and BBC via Laughing Squid)

  • mhhsjej

    sorry but thats wrong we at the university of göttingen had a webcam in 1987.

  • Aaron Stites

    Proof of this?

  • Joakim Bidebo

    Some proof of it would be nice, that göttingen did have a camera they used as an early ‘webcam’ and not just had a camera that they used to photograph particles with.

  • Norshan Nusi

    I remember in Hitman 2 also have this camera.

  • Peter Davis

    Coffee machines in Australia are always ‘empty’, because you always have to make espresso yourself.

  • Rob

    I wonder if the outcome was that it was always empty because nobody wants to make a trip to an empty pot! Probably not, for those ambitious enough to do a webcam I’m sure they had some good brew going …

  • Matthew Wagg

    Slow news day then?

  • Thiago

    I’m actually old enought to know about this :( and I read it as big news in a PC Magazine back then.