I recently saw a meme on social media doing the rounds (again), as they do. I can’t recall who to give the props to, but well done whoever it was! It said “He is making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice, Santa Clause is in contravention of article 4 of the General Data Protection Regulation (EU) 2016/279”. It got me thinking… I wonder if the business of being Santa and delivering all those presents at this time of year might be helped with some IoT and AR use cases? As far as I know Santa is not a customer of 451 Research, but we often have these sorts of conversations (minus the magic of Christmas) with start-ups, corporates and their customers. 

What does he do?

Santa operates a time limited delivery service, globally, with his choice of transport an open sleigh towed by reindeer, that flies. Delivery is conditional based on the life choices of his consumer base, but nearly everyone gets something delivered. A back-office operation mass produces, customizes and packages the products, in the form of presents, to meet the required demand. 

Edge computing

Leaving out his faster than light travel covering the globe in 24hrs, which is of course a trade secret, any upgrading of Santa’s sleigh is going to have to rely heavily on edge computing. That is compute resource and storage close to the point of data generation, i.e. on the sleight itself. At the excessive speeds he travels, standard communication back to cloud servers with the potential bandwidth requirements and the need to work instantly anywhere on the planet, all make data exchange tricky.

It will certainly be worth examining the power consumption of the sleigh-based edge device and there is a likelihood of being able to use energy harvesting to assist this, rather like a Formula 1 car overtaking mode battery or a Nissan Leaf electric vehicle does under braking. There is no time in the schedule for battery changing, though the Reindeer do get the odd carrot to help their energy levels.

Rudolph’s Nose

Clearly Rudolph’s iconic and indicative red nose is worth upgrading to add a degree of sense/respond control. It will only need short range communication to the sleigh, but can have its own small amount of processing and detection capability for situations such as bad visibility in fog and snow, or lack of daylight. With a little bit of extra work, it could execute a machine learning algorithm linked to the guidance system and previous runs and situations, but that might be a little overkill in phase 1.

Augmented Reality – AR

A SantAR system can ideally provide a suitable heads-up display, or projection system for the man himself to keep track of his workload and the sleigh status. This would be direct from the edge computing unit, where it would act as the user interface for his IoT systems, with possible cached data held locally in the AR unit itself (just as when you make google maps available offline on your phone). Individual drill downs for specific household’s status reports can be geofence triggered as he approaches so he is ready to deliver and reduce the overall cycle time of checking a paper-based list.

Condition Based Maintenance and Logistics

Back at base the present making factory has been hard at work all year, but in order to hit the non-moveable date the Elves have had to rely for many years on their very skilled and knowledgeable workforce to maintain the line. However, these skilled workers are retiring quicker than the younger elves can get experience.

There is also a shift from an age of woodwork and crafts to a high degree of automation and creation of complex electronic equipment. Elf force automation will help provide the new workers with some insights into what to repair on machinery and how to assemble the presents. A mix of Virtual Reality (VR) for training and AR, just has Santa has but in this case for shop floor operations.

Surveillance Culture

Parents and guardian notifications tend to have been the network by which the naughty or nice classifications have been generated, that determine the level of present delivered. With increasing use of cameras and face detection with smartphones and home security cameras they are able to be taken out of the loop in favour of a full Artificial Intelligence system.

This is trained on the many years of data provided by parents where it learns what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. We can expect to see this running initially in parallel with manual systems this year, but next year it will be policing the presents situation on its own. There were rumours that the Mirai Botnet was in fact the North Pole testing out a wide range of camera devices that got a little out of hand.

Home Security

It used to be the case that Santa could park the sleigh on the roof and head down the chimney, reverse burgling the house and leaving presents. Chimneys are very much in decline and no longer a suitable Santa interface. Physical security of locks on doors and windows have proven a bit of an obstruction in an otherwise slick deliver system.

Santa is very much looking forward to an increase in home automation systems because he is a “white beard hacker” able to bypass the security of these more easily than using physical means. At the moment this is fairly simple as the admin accounts can’t be changed, the devices don’t get patched and the home owners don’t know much about them anyway. That will change over time, but he will always find a digital backdoor. Failing that, your presents will be left behind the bins or with a neighbour, not ideal for Christmas morning.

Future improvements

We can expect the sleigh to cease to require a driver as it moves to full autonomy over the next few years, and may remove the reindeer power source due to the greenhouse gas exhaust situation. It will take a few more technology cycles to remove the complexity of Santa’s operation navigating inside the home but eventually he will be replaced by automation.

Whilst he will have oversight and visibility of the operation it will not require one person to do all the work as multiple delivery drones will be able to place the presents as needed. Children will probably not listen out for hooves on the roof but instead a gentle fly like whir of a quadcopter. Still, it will blow the snow around in a pleasing and gentle way!

Merry Christmas

Here is to a happy and healthy holiday season to you all.