Science Interviews


Tue, 22nd Dec 2015

Techno Santa!

Peter Cowley, Tech investor

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Cracking the science of Christmas

Santa has one mammoth job ahead of him every Christmas eve, so could some ofTechno santa our technological advances from the year give him a bit of a boost? Peter Cowley, tech investor, has been looking into how a savvy Santa might save some time and cut his carbon emissions this Christmas, as he explained to Georgia Mills...

Peter - Well I was amazed by this.  I did some research on this and the numbers, of course, are huge because if you take the number of children on the planet (you've got about a billion), and we'll come to later which ones are not going to get presents because they've been naughty.  He's got about 300 million miles to travel over the time when it's dark and if you extend it, with the Earth's rotation and everything, you end up with about 2,000 miles per second, which is 1% of the speed of light, that’s 150 times faster than Voyager 1.  And if you take the weight; say each gift weighs a kilo - seems a lot but let’s say a kilo - then its half a million tons of presents which requires 5½ million reindeer to pull it along.  And the total energy usage would be of the order of twice what the Earth would uses in a whole year.  And of course also, if Santa was to stop for a mince pie and a glass of sherry each time, which he is supposed to do, then you've consumed bout 20,000 tons of mince pies (150 billion calories) and you’d be 50 million times over the drink driving limit.

Georgia - Well we'll hear a bit more about how Santa would fail a breathalyser later, but first, that’s an enormous amount of work for one man.  Could technology give him a little bit of help?

Peter - Well - I think there's a big problem, of course,  travelling at that speed with air resistance, so I think he really needs to be travelling about the Earth's atmosphere and then send stuff down by drone, or by some means or other to get it down the chimney - you have to be very accurate of course.  Also, as we’re getting greener and greener, I suspect he really ought to become sort of zero emissions, which is a problem with 5½ million reindeer as you can imagine.

Chris - They’re ruminants aren’t they, so they belch….

Peter - Yes – so imagine they're doing, and other things as well I suspect, which will then re-enter orbit, won't it?  The other issue of course, I did think about using LED headlights rather than normal, but it isn’t that, it’s actually the radar system that will do it, because of the amount of space debris up there.  It's so huge, he would be running into things the whole time.

Georgia - Outside of a sled, are there any other ways technology might give him a bit of a break?

Peter - Well – I thought of drop off points, so he could drop off somewhere and parents could collect.  A bit like some of the click and collect things we’ve got.  But I think the big one, and this is slightly controversial is that perhaps he shouldn't be transferring atoms around to children, he should be transferring electrons around.  Now with electrons, of course, we're getting more and more of that anyway, with downloads, and with music, and with money being transferred as well.  But how about having a 3D printer in every home.  So then you get something downloaded to the 3D printer, which could be a piece of jewellery, but it could also be food.  I don't know if you’ve noticed, but there’s more and more 3D printer foods around now.

Georgia - So Santa could send you a 3D printed mince pie in return for all the many we've given him?

Peter - Correct - exactly.

Georgia - And what about in terms of, as you mentioned earlier, working out whose been naughty and whose been nice?

Peter - Well, this is a biggie, because I did a bit of research on mum's net.  This is really strong feelings about mothers…

Chris - That well known academic…

Peter - Yes.  It's pretty big; it's pretty dominant in the UK.  The concept of not giving your child presents.  How naughty do they have to be where you can let them down on Christmas Day?  But I thinking perhaps we need some data behind this, and so the sort of data we could have would be social media postings if they’re old enough.  Surveillance - not so good.  Tracking, you know, if they've been exercising.  Mobile phones would give those tracking data.  So, yes, the whole thing is a real can of worms when you can choose whether a child's naughty or not - so the answers probably no, so let's not go down there.



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