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With advanced technology would it be possible to make something like the Santa in the story as well as the reindeer? If so could a realistic Santa be a human or would him and his reindeer have to be machines? Some things I was wondering are:

  1. Is there any kind of fuel would a realistic Santa and his reindeer need to consume in order to have enough energy to move fast enough to deliver presents to hundreds of millions of homes?
  2. Is there any material that a realistic Santa and his reindeer could be made from that could withstand the gs that he and his reindeer would experience when delivering presents?
  3. How would the realistic versions of Santa's reindeer move the sleigh?
  4. Could a realistic Santa cover the sonic boom produced by his sleigh?
  5. How would a realistic Santa fit billions of presents into his sack?
  6. How would a realistic Santa protect the presents from the G force experienced while traveling?
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    $\begingroup$ you can cheat with 3D printing swarm bots Santa! $\endgroup$ – user6760 Dec 7 '15 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ Are you set on a single Santa? I think a large team is the way to go if you want realism. $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion Dec 7 '15 at 7:51
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    $\begingroup$ "anatomically correct" is not the right term, unless you were being funny. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Dec 7 '15 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ Wait.. "realistic" Santa? "mythical-creatures" tag?.. It's as if you're saying Santa isn't real! $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Dec 7 '15 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ I also find the "anatomically correct" quite inaccurate. Not only does it invoke an alternate meaning for the phrase, but in fact Santa himself is only the subject of #2. All of the others are about Santa's stuff, not his body. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 7 '15 at 17:07
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How many kids?

This is the toughest factor to find. While Santa isn't specific to a single religion, traditions differ in various parts of the world, and belief rates in Santa Claus are not tracked by the WHO, looking at Christians seemed to be a reasonable, if imperfect, start. According to 2010 estimates, there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world. I have no idea how many of them are kids, but we're all kids at heart, aren't we? So I'll just go with 2.2 billion kids in my calculations. That might sound like a huge overestimate, but, as you'll see, even if that number is off by a factor of ten, it won't make much difference.

No matter how you look at it, though, that's a lot of chimneys.

How many cookies?

Assuming Santa heeds his doctor's advice and doesn't eat the entire plate of cookies (he just eats one—he has to keep up appearances, after all!):

Shortbread cookie diet

Excluding the obligatory sip of milk, by the time the night's over, Jolly Ol' Saint Nick would have ingested food energy (it's mostly empty carbs anyway!) equivalent to the yield of a 200 kT thermonuclear bomb!

Naughty or Nice list: 225 TB

Accounting for names (100 characters), identifying information (200 characters), address/coordinates (200 characters), photograph (100KB) (he has to be able to recognize the little tykes on sight if one of them happens to wake up in the middle of the night), Santa would need storage for around 100KB on each kid.

$$100 \text{KiB} \cdot 2.2\times10^9 = 225 \text{TiB}$$

Very roughly speaking, that means Santa's carrying around about a hundred 2TB external HDDs (2015 budget: US$7,500, chump change for Kris Kringle!). That's a fair amount of storage for one man to carry around, for sure, but compared to Santa's other challenges, a hundred hard drives would be the least of his worries.

Cargo

This one's easy: 2.2 billion Red Ryder Lever Action BB Guns at 1kg each is 2.2 million metric tons.

Volume-wise, let's say you can get about 10 presents per cubic meter (don't want to smash the pretty bow ribbon!). For a sense of scale, check this query:

  • 44% of the volume of Sydney Harbor
  • 69% of the total annual volume of oil transported by oil tankers worldwide

If I were Santa and refused to delegate the actual home visits, I would at least mobilize a huge global shipping network months in advance, to ship the presents to local warehouses and perhaps even neighborhood depots from there, for staging purposes. That way on Christmas Eve itself, he has much less work to do, and much, much less cargo to drag around the globe.

Time estimate

This is where it starts to get rough.

According to the map on the Wikipedia page linked above, Christians are spread out East-West more or less across the entire globe. Very roughly speaking, but precise enough for our purposes here, let's say Santa has 24 hours to deliver all of the presents. Can one man do it?

$$24h / 2.2\times10^9 kids = 1.091\times 10^{-8} h/kid = 39.27 \mu s/kid$$

I hope Santa's a fast eater!

Forces on Santa

It's hard to get a precise estimate of the distance Santa will be traveling, how much time will be spent taking off, flying, and landing, versus just going door-to-door in apartments. While acceleration during takeoff would surely be very bad, why don't we just consider the best possible case for Santa's delivery: every kid in the world is beamed with a transporter, semi-comatose, into Russia, in a single line, shoulder to shoulder, with their arms outstretched. Santa would then just need to take a step, stop, hand out a present, and repeat. Let's say taking a step and stopping take 2/3 of the time (1/3 accelerating, 1/3 decelerating), and handing out the present takes the other 1/3.

Santa therefore has $39.27/3 = 13.09 \mu s$ to accelerate through roughly half a metre. Thanks to Newton's 2nd law, we know:

$$s = v_0t + \frac{1}2 at^2$$

With a little arranging, and $s = 0.5m, t = 13.09 \mu s, v_0 = 0$ (he accelerates from a standstill), we get:

$$a = \frac{2s}{t^2} = 5.84 \times 10^9 m/s^2 = 5.95\times10^8 g$$

That's 595,000,000g. You can check this page for the gory details of human tolerance, but, really, don't bother. Most humans wouldn't survive 40g-50g or so. At 595 million g, Santa is now, at best, a buttery sweet-smelling liquid.

But there's another, worse problem than that!

(Worse than Liquid Santa? This can't be good...)

No matter what kind of fuel you use, moving Santa in one direction means an equal force in the opposite direction is required. As it turns out, that will amount to a lot of energy. How much? $6.4\times10^{20} \text{J}$, which is about 11% of the world's total energy (oil) reserves.

But what happens when you burn all that heat in a short amount of time?

Liquid Santa is now setting off a continuous chain of fireballs, with a total yield equivalent to $1.5\times 10^{11}$ tons of TNT, which is more than enough to vaporize every child on Earth, and plunge the rest of us into a nuclear winter severe enough to have a deadly White Christmas, all year round!

Anyway, I think that takes care of your cargo problem!

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    $\begingroup$ I like how you ended it on a happy note :) $\endgroup$ – user96551 Jul 29 '16 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ This is brilliant, though I'll disagree with the Naughty or Nice list point. With a monster server at the Pole, and a decent internet connection (SantaNet?), he could have all that data at his fingertips on a tablet computer, so no lugging around hard drives. Pointless in the grand scheme of things but applicable. $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Dec 5 '16 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Lu22 Thanks! I'm not convinced about your suggestion, though. For the money (Santa is pretty much a one-man charity, after all), 100 hard drives and a shoebox to put them in would be far, far cheaper, more secure, and more portable than a global 20 Gbit/sec network (100KB/39us), plus amazing tablet and satellite/wi-fi receiver that can handle very heavy streaming traffic (and probably not fit in a shoebox). Then again, he might still need a terrestrial version of SantaNet for the 365/24 surveillance needed to put the naughty/nice list together in the first place, so there's that. :-) $\endgroup$ – type_outcast Dec 6 '16 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ This has to be the funniest & coolest answer I have ever read on any SE site. 😄 This is just perfect. You sir, should get a bounty for this. 😉 $\endgroup$ – user20871 Dec 6 '16 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ Amazing answer, although the phrase "This one's easy: 2.2 billion Red Ryder Lever Action BB Guns at 1kg each is 2.2 million metric tons" is worth the upvote all on its own. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Dec 24 '16 at 17:33
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If people are living in a virtual reality, Santa will be a parallel process that can scale up as needed to handle everyone at the same time. Since the virtual realm will have been designed with Santa in mind from the ground up, there will be various hooks in place to support this. If the entire computer gets bogged down, then virtual time experience of everyone will be slowed to match. That might be a good time to perform annual garbage collection and system maintenance, anyway.

In a post-singularity world where the population of software-based beings exceeds that of biological humans by orders of magnitude, but (some) people still cling to keeping minds that are recognizably human, there will still be human drives for expansion and pushing frontiers. Why would a new polis get formed and attract beings to come live there? Religion and way of life is a historic human reason. Nobody ever started a war over Santa, yet it offers all the hallmarks of a deity. It makes sense that someone would design a society (polis implementation: data center + protocols, logistics, laws to live by) where there is a being watching everyone and acting with intelligence and his own agency, but clearly friendly and accepted as a positive feature. So why not personify Santa in this role? Then, it is a no-brainer to implement his annual visit as part of normal system maintenance.

During the early design of virtual communities, there might be a process for tidying things up and monitoring. If “he sees you when you’re sleeping” to do the database compaction and resetting of resources, somebody will get the idea to call it Santa. And if you had what’s essentially an omniscient being privy to your thoughts as a necessary role of a glorified apartment superintendent, you would want to put a positive spin on the idea, and a whimsical not-to-serious modern deity is just the ticket that the marketing folks jump on.

If money is made on virtual goods, like in game engines today, commercial promotional tie-ins will follow, and Santa can give away software-defined items to the inhabitants.

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    $\begingroup$ Love the out-of-the-box (literally) thinking here... $\endgroup$ – Florian Peschka Dec 7 '15 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ Hey, I'd live there! $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Dec 7 '15 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ If it's web-based... We'd even be leaving cookies for Santa to clean up. $\endgroup$ – Roland Heath Dec 9 '15 at 3:22
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The mall Santas deliver the presents.

As Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) pointed out in the film Home Alone, Santa Claus is not one person; there is one representative of Santa in each mall. (This explains the Isuzu in the mall parking lot space marked "Reserved for Santa" and the change in Santa's handwriting after a child moves to live with another parent.) Kathy Benjamin reports that some malls in fact have two Santas. After the elves in Santa's Chinese workshops finish assembling the toys, they are shipped to distribution centers in each mall, where the mall Santas pick them up and go on to deliver the gifts to celebrating families.

So here's how to calculate the plausibility of a single Santa's delivery run:

  1. Find the support value of a mall. "The Mall Phenomenon" counts 114,846 shopping centers in the USA, so I'll estimate 1 mall for each 3000 people.
  2. Divide by the number of people per household, and multiply by the fraction of celebrating households. This page on Statista says the average household size is 2.54 people, and the percentage of households with children is 43 percent. Subtract non-celebrating households, such as Jews, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, other evangelical Christian types who think Santa is a pagan tool to distract from Jesus, etc. Also subtract families with juvenile delinquent children who top the naughty list. This leaves, again in nice round numbers, 300 deliveries per mall.
  3. The article "The Astronomical Math Behind UPS’ New Tool to Deliver Packages Faster" estimates that a United Parcel Service driver makes 120 deliveries per day in a subsonic vehicle. But a UPS driver is stuck in traffic on surface streets and needs to take signatures, sources of slowdown that don't affect a Santa's Workshop driver. This brings 300 in one night within plausibility.
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Let's think out of the box and imagine something really different.

The North Pole is an allegory of a perfect stealth space station on a non-geostationary orbit (geostationary wouldn't be good, we will see that later).

This space station crosses exactly one time zone every hour, this way it's always midnight on Earth when it's above this part of our planet.

Reindeer is another allegory for an automated (and stealth) drone system for delivery, powered by methane extracted from all cookies collected each year and made from meteorites.

Each drone will deliver one gift with a target GPS located and collect cookies for next year.

Each hour, drones planed for the time zone just below are launched at midnight and come back with harvest.

What do you think of this solution ?

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    $\begingroup$ I think you seriously underestimate the delta V required to reach earth orbit. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Dec 8 '15 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think you, @Joshua, don't understand how flippin' fast things happen to go in space. Sorry. Just hold the thing still and earth does the work? This is sci-fi. Like fantasy, the bigger, the more reasonable, even when totally not. $\endgroup$ – Caleb Woodman Dec 9 '15 at 4:21
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    $\begingroup$ If the space station always faces midnight, it means that it is always opposite of the sun. That means, it doesn't "orbit" Earth. It rather orbits the Sun on an Earth-synchronous orbit. If you place it too close to Earth, it will enter her gravitational pull and crash :-/ $\endgroup$ – M.Herzkamp Dec 10 '15 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @M.Herzkamp you’re talking about L1 or L2. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Dec 23 '17 at 0:07
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Realistic high-tech Santa is from a future alternate timeline, and possesses a time machine, a molecular assembler/disassembler, and a quantum computer with near-infinite information density, linked into public records databases and social media outlets of today, as well as linked to all the research items of his own time.

With these, he can trawl infinite Christmases at his leisure, instantly research the good or bad of any given child with ease, consume as many cookies as his heart desires, construct either organic or mechanical flight-capable reindeer analogues, create astonishing presents from the ashes in the fireplace, and still be home every night in time to enjoy a little nog with Mrs. Claus.

  1. No fuel storage necessary; the molecular assembler/disassembler can handle that duty as needed. No special fuel, since he doesn't need to move particularly quickly.

  2. No G's need to be resisted, since, again, he can move at perfectly reasonable speeds.

  3. Pick your favorite method. They're quiet, so probably agrav tech of some sort built into the harness. Just happens to sound the same as jingle bells.

  4. No sonic boom happens, so no need to cover it.

  5. Molecular assembler has this covered. No sack necessary (unless you want the assembler in the bottom so it looks like he can reach in and grab the presents).

  6. Again, no G's need to be resisted.

Bonus: though unlikely given this level of tech, he can just clone himself and his entire kit to pick up the slack while he heads off to vacationland for a few decades off.

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    $\begingroup$ If Santa did it all himself, how old would he be after just one Christmas? $\endgroup$ – ErikE Dec 7 '15 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ Great question! I'm taking the 'you know, it probably doesn't matter, because with that kind of tech Santa's either got massive organic life-extension tech, is already a sentient using a partly or entirely synthetic platform, or can clone a small army of himself to divvy up all the work" angle... ...but that's a cop-out. Using type_outcast's numbers above, and assuming Santa can handle a "neighborhood" of kids per nightly flight (call it fifty, say) it'll take slightly over a hundred thousand years per Christmas at 2015's population. Now that's dedication to Christmas. $\endgroup$ – Finch Dec 8 '15 at 3:22
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for anti-grav that "just happens to sound like jingle bells"! And 100,000 years per Christmas... I guess Santa's sleigh might have to be a generation ship? With ~4300 generations per year: "Ho ho ho! Yes, little girl, I am the real Santa Claus MMMMCCCIV". $\endgroup$ – type_outcast Dec 8 '15 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ @ErikE: That tech is harder than selective activation of telomeraze. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Dec 8 '15 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ No doubt. He never said HOW advanced, though, so I figured we had a nice big palette to play with. Technically, not even the 100k years per Christmas is that big a deal. There are corporations with more employees than that which coordinate complex yearly projects. Spin up as many clones as it takes years to complete a Christmas, and take the year to execute. Hey, that explains the "elves" at the North Pole -- it's actually cloned Santas in their off-duty clothes... $\endgroup$ – Finch Dec 8 '15 at 19:19
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Disclaimer: Depending on your views on supernatural entities such as ghosts and spirits, the first portion of this answer may not qualify for a "realistic" Santa.

Santa is real. Have you not felt his spirit get stronger the closer to Christmas Eve it gets each year? His spirit affects millions of people across the globe; spreading selflessness, cheer, and care for our common man. Even those who don't celebrate Christmas have their own versions of gift-giving and sharing caused by the spirit that Christians named Santa.


More Physical Santa, going off similar idea:

Chris Kringle had accidentally invented a bio-chemical weapon (assuming virus from here on, but could be other things) which flares up once a year, explaining much of his own selflessness as he spread it to others via "gifts". By targeting the human brain, it causes those affected by it to want to share and give things to others - which is how the weapon is capable of spreading easily. When being infected with the weapon for the first time, many see a hallucination of a older gentleman in Red and White, giving birth to the idea of Santa. Since the weapon is now wide-spread, most now experience this during their childhood. As they grow older, they rationalize the experience and don't even realize what really happened.


In answer to the six questions: he doesn't actually need to accomplish those things physically himself, because he influences the masses of the world to accomplish those things for him. Santa is just the "influence", whatever that might be.

I realize this answer stretches "realistic Santa", especially when the title emphasizes "anatomy", but hopefully it still gives some ideas of how to make a realistic entity which causes gifts to be given to millions!

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"Workers" in every home.

I think this plan is totally viable today with a decentralized model. He puts 1 or 2 workers in every home. They spy the children the whole time (with the child knowledge or not), so they know if a child is good or not. Even more, the workers have their own money to buy the gift for their respective children before the Xmas date, hide it in a secret spot and put it under the tree when the children are slept.

Often the workers can be too fond of the children they spy, so they buy a gift for them even if they are not as good as Santa wants, which infuriate him but not enough to punish them or anything.

How can Santa pay for all those workers? simple. Call them Parents and they will work for free.

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