Web cam coffee pot served up in auction

It’s perhaps the most famous coffee pot in the world, and now it’s likely one of the most expensive.

The machine, in the Trojan Room at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory in the United Kingdom, has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of Internet surfers via a frame grab posted on the Web. It’s developed such a cult following that bidders on the eBay Inc. Web site pushed up the price of the pot to 3,350 pounds (US$4,767) in an online auction that ended Saturday. The editors of German news magazine Spiegel Online placed the winning bid.

The story began in the pre-Web days of 1991, when researchers working on ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) networks pointed a digital camera at their coffee pot and wrote software enabling members of the lab’s “coffee club” to view an image of the pot on their computer screens. That way they could save themselves long, late-night trips through the corridors for a caffeine infusion when the pot was empty. In a later version, the image was broadcast over the Web, and the popular XCoffee site, reputedly the first-ever Web cam was born.

Now the lab is moving buildings, and the 10-cup Krups ProAroma – actually the latest of several machines which have served in the spot – is being retired.

“Times move on and we want to buy a shiny new espresso machine because from the new building it’s too far to walk to Starbucks,” the researchers wrote in their eBay offering.

“It’s a wonderful piece of Internet history, and we’d like to save it and continue the tradition of the pot,” said Spiegel Online managing editor Wolfgang B