Brief History of Web Cams
The first webcam was invented in 1991 at Cambridge by the computer science department. As they were rather lazy, they wanted to know whether the coffeepot in another room contained coffee or not from their desks. So they placed a camera pointed at the pot and created a script to show them realtime images on their computer. It saved them literally seconds from getting up and walking to another room.
Clearly we need more coffee
In 1993, with the world wide web and modern web browsers, it enabled another level of connectivity. The coffeepot camera was connected to the Internet and suddenly everyone was able to see the same information. The webcam would later become incredibly commonplace, being embedded in our laptops and phones. Today, anyone can start streaming any video easily using a service like Twitch or Periscope.
Yet the original idea of webcams remain the same: make it easy for somebody to check the conditions remotely. There’s a big application for this in government transportation departments, where they may want to look at road conditions in a particular area, perhaps running algorithms on that data to determine things like flow rate or maximum car capacity. In order to track these conditions from miles away, these cameras may be connected to the Internet and publicly available.
Traffic Cam Viewer
The app Traffic Cam Viewer for Android TV is fairly extensive. It lets you add traffic, college campus, or beach cameras that are all publicly available. For free you can add and view six at a time. Although the interface is not very pretty, it is really cool to mark out your work route and then watch the traffic travel through a grid of streams.
There’s a lot to browse through, so the streams are categorized by type, country, and state. When you find the one you want, you can add it to the list of cameras and then return to the homescreen, which is a player surrounded by a bunch of options. There’s an ad at the top of the page which is annoying, although there is an in-app purchase to get premium features.
As I picked a handful of streams, like a bunch from Cornell University. I was a bit disappointed to find that many of them were offline or didn’t work. So, some of the streams you’ll get are hit or miss.
After messing around with some of the college streams for a while, I went back to picking traffic cameras. As these were likely actively used by the Department of Transportation, they would likely be more stable, and traffic cameras were the main purpose of the app.
By unlocking premium features, you get a lot more control in the app. You can zoom in (enhance!), and move the image around. Additionally, ads will be removed and you can add an unlimited number of cameras to browse at a time.
One of the coolest parts of the app is displaying all your streams in a single matrix, giving you the feel of a small security office. In the example above I picked four different camera streams from I-295 and was able to watch traffic flow past all of them. As this was checked at night, traffic was not too bad, but I imagine if you looked in the morning it would look much worse.
The app is not without some UX quirks. Sometimes I didn’t know where my cursor went, and loading is done one stream at a time. If there’s any buffering, the entire thing slows down while it waits for all four videos to load again. The entire app feels sluggish while you watch four 10FPS video streams, which probably isn’t a fault of the app, but it is another thing that detracts from the experience.
Overall, this is a nifty thing to have. It’s free to download on Google Play for Android TV. I hope future updates continue to improve the TV experience, perhaps allowing you to add your chosen cameras as live channels.