In the Beginning

Zircon is an up and coming company that, much like the software and technologies that we work with on a daily basis, is continuing to grow and expand with each passing year. However, sometimes in order to keep moving forward, you need to look back. So this month, we plan on doing just that.

The idea of capturing and preserving images has fascinated the human race for centuries. In the beginning, there were Greek and Chinese philosophers pontificating about the basic principles of optics and the camera. Jump forward a thousand years to 1672 and Sir Isaac Newton finally manages to discover that white light is actually composed of different colours. 1727 brings about Schulze’s discovery that silver nitrate darkened when exposed to light. However, it isn’t until 1814 that we get our first glimpse of a device capable of projecting real-life imagery in the form of Joseph Niepce’s camera obscura. It is at this point that things begin to get interesting.

It is the year 1835. James Bowman Lindsay has managed to demonstrate a constant electric light, the first known assassination attempt of a US president has taken place, Charles Darwin has arrived at the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle, and in the small town of Lacock, Wiltshire, William Henry Fox Talbot succeeds in taking the first printed paper negative photograph.

Who is William Henry Fox Talbot?” I hear you ask. Talbot was a British Scientist who, spurred on by his lack of success, or some would say skill, in sketching whilst on holiday in Italy, aimed to design a new device that would use light-sensitive paper to create his sketches for him instead. Thus, the development of the calotype began.

Talbot’s earliest process, named “salted paper” due to the use of a weak solution containing ordinary table salt, was effective but also highly reactive to any light exposure. Facing this problem, Talbot was able to find several ways to chemically stabilize the process making the resulting images sufficiently insensitive to be viewed in bright light. Using this process Talbot created the first negative image of the lattice window at Lacock Abbey.

From this moment on the developments in Photography spiralled. With the first Kodak roll-film camera being patented in 1888, the first mass-market camera becoming available in 1900, 1943 Chester Carlson receives a patent for electric photography and by 1963 Polaroid introduces the first instant colour film.

Whilst it may not seem like an impressive technological advancement when you compare it to the technology of today, everybody has benefited from these significant photography milestones. Because of Talbot’s work, Zircon has been able to develop sophisticated software using live video footage that brings with it many advantages. For example, take the system Zircon helped to develop for a client to provide train drivers with a view of live CCTV footage from carriages and carriage doors as a means to improve the safety of passengers, and the efficiency of train departures.

The resulting photo negative of the Lacock abbey window.
⇑ Fox Talbot’s Negative of the Lacock Abbey Window

It has also opened the doors for our experimentation with Video Analysis techniques for the purpose of detecting and recognizing trackside assets, or the presence of unauthorized individuals within track boundaries. Not bad considering just 183 years ago natural light was our biggest adversary.

We think it is amazing that a discovery made only 10 miles away from our offices in Trowbridge has grown to provide us with the ability to potentially save countless lives. However, if nothing else history has shown us that success and innovation come from ideas and their gradual evolution over time, and that the pontificating in the 4th and 5th century certainly did have its uses.

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