San Francisco State’s ‘FogCam’ is a part of tech history

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It’s been on the watch since before the internet was a thing.

The world’s oldest webcam, known as “FogCam,” is still in operation at San Francisco State University.

First installed in 1994 as a student project, the camera provides a birds-eye view of the campus for anyone who logs on, according to SF Gate.

The tech relic consists of a Logitech camera rigged up on a flexible plastic tripod on the second floor of the university’s business building — and many students don’t even know it’s there. However, it is looked upon as a technology milestone and a “website pioneer,” according to CNN.

Co-creator Jeff Schwartz was a graduate student in instructional technologies learning to script, or write instructions to control computer, when he came across the first-ever live webcam, which predated the internet — the “Trojan Room Coffee Pot cam” at the University of Cambridge. Students at Cambridge invented it so that researchers toiling away in their computer lab could check on whether or not the coffee maker in the next room was full or empty.

Taking inspiration from the U.K. university, Schwartz partnered with a staff member supporting the department, Dan Wong, to launch FogCam.

The world's oldest webcam, known as "Fogcam," is taking footage at San Francisco State University.
The world’s oldest webcam, known as “FogCam,” is taking footage at San Francisco State University.
Jeff Schwartz and Dan Wong/FogCa

They employed the use of the first webcam-like device created for universal distribution, a Connectix QuickCam, which they connected to a Mac they purchased at the on-campus bookstore, and fused them together with a custom-made software, SF Gate explained.

The fledgling device got its name because of the foggy view it shared — reflecting both the city’s famous misty weather and the low-resolution images the device produces.

“It was technology we likened to ‘The Jetsons’ at the time,” said Andrew Roderick, the associate vice president of the university’s academic technology department.

“Webcams represented the first point in time where you could have a camera that was made to distribute images in an intentional way on the internet,” he said. “It created that first idea that we could connect on a screen and sort of predicted the Zoom thing that we came to rely upon during the pandemic.” 

Co-founder Jeff Schwartz was a graduate student learning to write instructions to control computer when he came across the first-ever live webcam.
Co-founder Jeff Schwartz was a graduate student learning to write instructions to control computer when he came across the first-ever live webcam.
Jeff Schwartz and Dan Wong/FogCa

When it was announced in 2019 that the FogCam would be turned off after 25 years, the public responded with an overwhelming effort to save it — spreading messages using the hashtag #SaveTheFogCam and even offering to provide donations to keep it going.

The outpouring of support came as a surprise — and as a result, Schwartz came to an agreement with SFSU, giving the school the rights to take control of the beloved FogCam.

“I did not expect it at all,” Roderick said. “People really cared about this thing.”

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