The Trojan Room Coffee Pot
I have often been credited in the media with inventing the webcam. This is not really justified - at least, I certainly didn’t do it single-handed! But I was part of the team that did.
You can find out about the history of The Trojan Room Coffee Pot - the first web-enabled camera - from my page of ‘Coffee Pot Resources’ on the Computer Lab’s site.
Articles about the pot have featured in many major newspapers around the world, but the peak of its publicity came when we decided it had run its course, and it was time to switch it off. It made the front pages of both the London Times and the Washington Post in one month!
The articles are no longer easy to find online, but there are links to scans of both of them below. It was also in The Guardian, in Wired, and, auf Deutsch, in Der Spiegel.
The very first reference to it, though, was a decade earlier in Bob Metcalfe’s column in Communications Week in 1992; at this point it was a networked camera, but not yet a webcam, for the simple reason that web browsers could not yet display images.
The first video footage of it was taken by a Japanese TV network – I think perhaps TV Asahi – and you can find a (very poor quality) copy of it here.
Another early TV appearance was when I was interviewed by Leo Laporte for his show on the American ZDTV network in 1999. This clip has webcam appearances by both me and the coffee machine, on the same screen, on the far side of the world!
There’s more information about this clip in one of my recent blog posts.
Later examples of press coverage include a cartoon in The Joy of Tech and, more recently, some discussion on BBC Breakfast TV and Radio 5 Live.
The pot was even mentioned on the world’s longest-running soap opera: BBC Radio 4’s The Archers. Here’s the clip. In Nov 2012, Paul, Martyn and I got together for an edition of the BBC World Service’s ‘Witness’ programme.
There’s lots more stuff about the coffee pot here, including a video interview recorded as part of the ‘Cambridge Invents’ series here.
More recently, we discussed the story on a nicely-edited episode on the Computerphile channel:
A fun little video was also made for the 2017 Lovie Awards, and I gave a short talk there too.
In 2017 we did a recording for the Centre for Computing History, which was finally released in Aug 2021 as part of their Web @30 celebrations:
I’ve put together a simple gallery of images of the pot here, and you can find some more movie and audio clips below in addition to those mentioned above.:
- BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Bank Holiday 40th Anniversary show, May 2022
- Hidden History of Hot Bevs, ‘Eclipsed’ podcast, Apr 2022
- BBC Radio Cambridgeshire with Louise Hulland, Aug 2021
- The Centre for Computing History, Dec 2017
- Computerphile, Nov 2017
- Moncrieff programme, Newstalk, Dublin, Nov 2016
- BBC Breakfast TV, August 2011
- BBC 5 Live, August 2011
- Wir haben dem Web die Wuerze gegeben, July 2011
- Washington Post 20010401.pdf
- Times Coffee Pot 20010307.pdf
- The Archers 240205.mp3
- CBC The Design Behind The Webcam 20141105 0917.mp3
- BBC Look East 260598 800Kbps Quicktime movie
- BBC Look East 260598 Quicktime movie
- Anglia TV News, approx 1996
- Observer article 020297.pdf
- BBC Radio Cambridgeshire 11/11/94 MP3
- Japanese TV clip (c. 1993-4) Quicktime movie