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Author: Santa Claus Relies On Robots, Gadgetry

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Author: Santa Claus Relies On Robots, Gadgetry

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Author: Santa Claus Relies On Robots, Gadgetry

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Everyone knows that Santa Claus is getting ready for his annual Christmas delivery of presents to good little boys and girls around the world. But how does he get it all done? In the next few minutes, spoiler alert, we'll reveal some of the high tech tools Santa uses to tackle this monumental challenge. Here to explain is Gregory Mone. He is an editor at Popular Science Magazine and is now out with a book of Santa science �The Truth About Santa: Wormholes, Robots and What Really Happens on Christmas Eve.� Good morning.

Mr. GREGORY MONE (Author, �The Truth About Santa: Wormholes, Robots and What Really Happens on Christmas Eve�): Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: One of the ways you begin this book is talking about an interesting idea from the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark. And I'll quote here, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And that certainly applies to Santa Claus in a way.

Mr. MONE: Exactly. I think part of the reason people look at Santa and say it's all magic, and some older kids start to lose their belief in Santa, is that his job does seem impossible - this notion of getting around the world and visiting all these homes in a single night. But the reason he can do it is that he has incredibly advanced technology. Santa's tools and his toys are effectively a few hundred years beyond anything that we have here at our disposal. And as a result, it does seem like magic. But it's really all science and technology.

MONTAGNE: Well, we can't get to everything you have in the book. But let's begin with something that we all know about, the red suit. Now, it looks cozy, but I gather it's more than a fashion statement in those subzero North Pole temperatures that Santa spends most of his time in.

Mr. MONE: Absolutely. Santa's suit - it looks like just sort of a - almost a snuggy, a wearable blanket, but, in fact, it's tuned for extreme conditions and also extreme instances where he might need to become, say, invisible. Santa's suit is laden with what are called metamaterials, which have this effect of bending light around a person, so that they turn invisible, something like Harry Potter's invisibility cloak, for example.

MONTAGNE: Now, Santa always seems to have reading glasses perched on his nose. Whenever you see him portrayed, you know, up there in the North Pole, indoors - you know, as if maybe he's reading children's letters. They are special, though, those glasses.

Mr. MONE: Absolutely. They're very special and it is kind of a quaint, cute image, but, in fact, these glasses have what's called the heads-up display -where when Santa looks through the lenses, he sees a whole range of information, both about the house he's visiting, the presents he's supposed to leave, the residents - including, you know, the children and whether they've been naughty or nice. And it also allows him to figure out where he's going next and how to get there. It's almost like a GPS map that we have in our car.

MONTAGNE: Right, but so much more than that.

Mr. MONE: So much more. And scientists are developing some technology like this today, but they're not quite at Santa's level.

MONTAGNE: Now there's something that surprised me, but actually makes perfect sense, and that's that he has a special device to make sure that he doesn't deliver gifts that are already under the tree. I mean, maybe something Mom and Dad bought. The last thing you'd want is to double up on, you know, on GI Joe or something like that.

Mr. MONE: Exactly. Now Santa knows what we want, but he doesn't really know what presents to leave for a given kid until he gets to that house and looks under the tree. The issue here, is that a lot of these presents are wrapped. And Santa doesn't have the time to unwrap every present and rewrap it to see what's inside. So he has a very advanced scanner that uses terahertz wave radiation to see through the wrapping and the cardboard and make out the shape inside. This vital information is then sent back to the North Pole to process, and Santa receives a message saying, okay, this child has received this Transformer or that doll, and he knows that he's supposed to leave something else.

MONTAGNE: And this is technology that exists?

Mr. MONE: Right, well, I spoke with a researcher in terahertz radiation myself. These are scanners that scientists are working on. Jason Dickinson at the University of Massachusetts helped to imagine how Santa's scanner itself might work. Because the truth is I don't have all the information about how Santa's operations work.

MONTAGNE: Well, hopefully, we won't ruin anything by going through a few more of these. There's the sleigh. This is most interesting. He seems to be taking advantage of some technology that didn't really exist back when Santa began and doesn't depend as he has, traditionally, on reindeer.

Mr. MONE: Right, well, Santa's sleigh has what's called warp drive which, instead of allowing him to get from point A to point B faster, it actually Point B closer to Point A. So it shrinks the space between the house he's leaving and the destination home. The reindeer are still helpful here, but he doesn't really require them for flying anymore.

MONTAGNE: So, they're just cruising along.

Mr. MONE: Right, exactly. Well, I spoke to an astrophysicist at the University of Berkeley, Richard Muller, and he suggested that, in fact, reindeer may not be able to fly. They might just be really good leapers, and what we're seeing when we think we see a reindeer flying off a rooftop, is the reindeer jumping off, bringing the sleigh with them into the air, and then the whole set, the reindeer, Santa, his sleigh, all of it disappearing into a warp bubble created by one of these warp drive engines.

MONTAGNE: A warp bubble - is there a quick explanation of that?

Mr. MONE: Well, Santa's warp drive engine, it bends space and twists space time in such a way that it can shorten the distance between two points. It's sort of like leaving the known visible universe and slipping back in again at a different point.

MONTAGNE: It is not just technology you're talking about here. You're also talking about a different sort of science - a sort of social science, child psychology, apparently, thanks to Ms. Claus, has entered into Santa's thinking.

Mr. MONE: Right, well, this notion of kids being either naughty or nice and Santa leaving coal if they've been bad and sort of ruining their Christmas, doesn't entirely work. You know, Mrs. Claus has been reading this kind of research in child psychology for years, and she's - eventually she made the point with Santa that positive reinforcement does work really well.

So what Santa tries to do these days is, instead of highlighting negative behavior, he sees if a kid who's been behaving badly does something very nice -and he captures these sort of things through all his surveillance devices which are all around the world - Santa tries to highlight that and give this kid a present and encourage them and say, you know, hey, thanks for picking up little Billy off the playground the other day instead of pushing him and things like that. And because, you know, Santa knows he wants a positive effect on these children. And so when Mrs. Claus came to him with all this research and said, look, Santa, we need to change our ways, he was absolutely open to it.

MONTAGNE: Science writer, Gregory Mone is author of the new book �The Truth About Santa: Wormholes, Robots and What Really Happens on Christmas Eve�. Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. MONE: Thank you for having me.

(Soundbite of song, �Santa Claus is Comin' to Town�)

Mr. FRANK SINATRA (Singer): (Singing) He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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