How Would a Fleet of Autonomous Sleighs Help Santa This Christmas?
Expert opinions on the global supply chain crisis are blizzard thick these days. And yet no one seems to have found it worthwhile to check in with the world’s foremost expert on the ins-and-outs of on-demand, worldwide delivery.
Which is unfortunate, because after working a few sources in the queue at the local mall’s winter wonderland, we’ve learned that the old man’s gone seriously cutting edge this year. It’s true, kids: Santa Claus has built a fleet of self-driving sleighs. Claus himself decided to talk to us because it turns out he’s modeled his autonomous technology on Argo AI’s, particularly their suite of lidar, radar and camera sensors and commercial-grade, cloud infrastructure.
“The future of the supply chain is self-driving,” Claus said. “Since I was the first to do on-demand global delivery, it’s important for me to stay lock-step with industry leaders like Argo.”
Since time immemorial, Claus has been overseeing the wildest single-day delivery spree in the world. Moving around the globe, beginning on the South Pacific island nation of Tonga, the first nation to welcome Christmas, all the way around to the very last on American Samoa, Claus must dive into chimneys, sneak through windows, or simply waltz through front doors, fulfilling the wishes of hundreds of millions of children. All with one sleigh, one sack, nine reindeer, and a massive, milk-and-cookies sugar rush.
“And not a single complaint,” Claus adds. “Ever.”
But, with a dusty and long-since-shuttered HR department, not all was functioning as swimmingly as it could have been up there in the North Pole. Running solo for centuries has ravaged Claus’ sciatica. Rudolph is in his eighties and the rest of the crew is going on 200. Meanwhile, the planet’s expanding population of children is no longer satisfied with wooden rocking horses and ceramic dolls—these kids want smartphones and VR consoles, gifts that have pushed the Elves to their technological limit.
All that, and the fact that the world is obsessing over the supply chain like never before, indicated to Claus that autonomy was the way to go. So he, Mrs. Claus and the Elves spent the better part of 2021 reimagining the way Christmas is done (strictly logistically speaking, of course).
In this exclusive interview with Ground Truth, Claus explains what he’s been up to.
Ground Truth: Before we jump into self-driving, let’s talk supply chain. There have been lots of moving parts to the current crisis. What aspect of it, exactly, made you decide Christmas was in need of a technological revolution?
Claus: Honestly, it was the toilet paper. I thought, “Are you kidding me? I’ve got 17 million kids asking for an Artie 3000 coding robot and you can’t keep the shelves stocked with toilet paper?” I just figured if I have a crew that can pull together millions of Artie 3000s, and the personal ability to deliver them all in one night, then I’d probably have a pretty darn good idea for how to improve my own supply chain.
GT: Okay, so what is it, what’s the revolution?
SC: Rudolph and I were doing our usual pre-holiday Google Earth scrolling, checking out just how populated the planet’s become since we started this gig, and we stumbled upon Argo’s website. We’re sitting there, looking at that video you have of your autonomous Ford driving through Market Square in Pittsburgh, and old Rudolph, well, his nose goes off. It seemed pretty clear to both of us that we needed to implement automation into our Christmas program.
We started in the workshop. Already, automation has reduced the Elves’ stress levels significantly. The Elves’ workdays have been far less grueling, mostly because they’ve been freed from mundane tasks like screwing toy parts together or soldering electronics. Instead of that stuff, they’ve been able to sit with me and Mrs. Claus to brainstorm our key initiative, which is automating the sleigh—or sleighs, I should say.
GT: Sleighs, plural?
SC: Oh yeah. Think about it: we’ve been severely limited all these years due to reindeer demands being rigorous to the point of monumental inefficiency. I mean, it’s the same crew! Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen have been at it since 1823. Rudolph, who the press continues to label as some kind of young buck, came onboard in 1939. I mean, the kid took the reins at the same time Gandhi was fasting in Bombay!
With the Elves’ time massively freed up on the gift assembly line, we were able to build a fleet of self-driving sleighs. Each one has a defined geonet where it will operate, to ensure it has the most efficient route planning possible and will be very familiar with the airspace and infrastructural nuances of the region. That kind of routing optimization not only prioritizes safety, but also offers massive savings on reindeer energy expenditure, which still provides the sleigh’s propulsion, of course. And, in addition to my back, my sleigh was under a tremendous amount of stress every Christmas—I had to cover 122 million miles in 24 hours, averaging about 5,000,000 miles per hour. You’re not doing numbers like that in a lemon.
At the most basic level, my annual route can be broken up by continent—so, seven sleighs are responsible for covering over 80 percent fewer miles. Think about the savings in maintenance!
Plus, we’re not wasting time flying over as many uninhabited zones—hello Antarctica! And after flying tens of thousands of test miles to ensure our tech knows every inch of our territory, we also realized we could optimize delivery even further by building different-sized sleighs. Which makes a lot of sense, right? You’re not going to deliver as many packages to, say, South America, which has a total population of about 422 million, as you are to Europe, which has a population of 746 million.
On that last point, you have no idea how cumbersome it was trying to maneuver my sleigh—28 feet from transom to Rudolph’s nose—across rooftops in places like New York City. Smaller sleighs mean safer, quicker delivery in cities—we can save the mega sleigh for Siberia.
GT: That’s some convincing economies of scale thinking right there. But someone still has to control the fleet and distribute the presents, right?
SC: Sure! It’s not like we’re putting our feet up and nodding out at 9 pm on Christmas Eve here.
We’ve been able to restaff the Elves at what we’re calling Elf Mission Control. Like Argo’s, our AS fleet—“AS” meaning autonomous sleigh—is managed through the cloud. At EMC, the Elves, reindeer, Mrs. Claus, and I are able to watch the AS fleet as it moves around the world, in real-time. If there’s a big storm or some other potential delay that we’re seeing in the EMC system, we reroute the impacted sleigh to a safer, quicker route.
Automating the sleigh fleet freed me up to do something I always wanted to be more involved with, but just didn’t have the time for coming down the Christmas homestretch: I can go through every kid’s wishlist, personally determine if they’ve been naughty or nice, then curate the final selection. I believe in Argo’s parlance, understanding your points of delivery at such a granular level is called mastering last-mile logistics.
As for who’s getting the presents under the tree, well, I understand that could potentially be controversial. I mean, what’s a Christmas moon without the silhouette of Santa and his reindeer? I get it. And I could never not be in the mix that night—it’s what I live for. So, while the AS fleet will be manned by our Elite Elf Force—EEF, another excellent title and acronym—the reindeer and I will be flying the skies overhead, unencumbered by frequent stops and, though I’m loath to admit this, the occasional chimney jam. And the exhaustion! You can’t imagine how spent we are by the time we get back around to American Samoa just before dawn on Christmas Day. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten lost trying to hit every house across those seven islands because we’ve been so bleary-eyed.
Now, we’ll be truly free to fly smoothly over every home and full moon, finally able to fully soak in all the magic of Christmas. Shoot, I’m willing to bet the sightings rate will go through the roof—no pun intended.
GT: You know, it occurs to us that we’ve never heard you talk about anything but the correlation between a child’s aggregate behavior and what they find under the tree on Christmas morning. It’s refreshing, and exciting, to hear you talk about something else, Santa.
SC: You know, getting pigeon-holed into a role is tough for high-profile people like me. We’re three-dimensional like everyone else. I certainly didn’t think the supply chain crisis would be the thing that would reveal my full self, but I’ll take it.
GT: And, what are you going to do with all your extra time, now that you’ve automated Christmas?
SC: Seems to me I’ve got a future in supply chain and self-driving consulting, no?