Tara Cellinese's picture

Dec 21, 2016


Tara Cellinese

Senior Marketing Communications Manager

The week before Christmas in the North Pole is undoubtedly busy. There’s the last minute gift manufacturing for all of those kids who’ve found their way off the naughty list. Elves are getting the sleigh tuned up. They are getting the reindeer fed extra helpings of hay and food.

Santa is in his office. Maps spread across his desk top, folded and tucked into every spare nook and extra cranny. He’s hand drawn routes all over the world to maximize his time. 

Delivering gifts to every house in the world in one night is a bit of a logistics challenge. It’s not something you do without a lot of planning. But what would go into that planning? And, realistically, how many Santas would be needed to actually pull off the feat?

To answer that question, we talked with three Omnitracs software engineers who develop the algorithms that power our Roadnet routing and navigation software for their take. We also asked Art Kutsy, Matt Burroughs, and Chad Flanders what it would take to pull off the feat if the if the whole thing were done by truck. 

For practical purposes, we limited our conversation to how Santa would go about planning to deliver packages to everyone in the contiguous United States. According to the most recent census, that’s gifts for approximately 315,000,000 people over roughly 160,820 square miles all done in one evening that includes 14 hours of darkness (5:30 sunset to 7:30 sunrise).

Here are some highlights of that conversation. For more, watch the video above.

If Santa and truck drivers were pitted against each other to see who could deliver gifts to each person in the contiguous United States, who would have it tougher? Santa or the truck drivers?

Matt: I think it's pretty obvious, there's one Santa and an army of truck drivers. He's got a lot of ground to cover. I'm voting Santa.

Art: Yeah, but there are a lot of truck drivers, so you've got to figure out what each one of them is going to be delivering. One Santa, he's doing it all. He doesn't have to think about who's got what.

Matt: That's fair.

Chad: I think that the fact that Santa has three dimensional space to play with really works to his advantage because the crow flight. You can fly straight lines whereas we have to do it on the road networks. I think it's much harder to deal with all the trucking. He's got a lot of homes to go to so how can he get to all of them in time? This is why I think we have to have multiple Santas.

Matt: There's one Santa, Chad.

Chad: I speculate on multiple. Maybe Santa's helpers. The mall Santas?

Art: If there's only one Santa then there's no traffic, right? I'm pretty sure he flies below the plane space.

Matt: How fast is this sleigh moving, like at the speed of light? That's a lot of ground, and he has, like, 14 hours?

What are the factors Santa needs to consider?

You're going to have a city block and all the kids there are going to be sleeping at roughly the same time. They've got, what, like six hours?

Matt: But bad kids don't go to sleep on time. That has to go into consideration. 

Chad: You'd have a backup Santa who comes in and gets all the bad kids who didn't sleep in time, maybe. He's got a bunch of coal. The main Santa — I really think he's going to have so much in each block that he's going to have to have a very big sleigh. Does he have a magic sack so he can have a lot of stuff? I think he would factor in the time zones very much.

Matt: I think the delivery method starts becoming really important. He doesn't have time to stop at every house and go down the chimney. We're talking present carpet bombing. There needs to be...

Chad: Present carpet bombing...

Matt: That needs to factor!

Art: How does he get the cookies?

Chad: Ooh, interesting note.

Matt: Santa can only eat so many cookies. He can skip 99.9 percent of the cookies.

Chad: But he doesn’t. There are always bites taken out of them.

Art: He seems to get all the cookies.

Chad: I think he needs to get in there. This is why I think the multiple Santas is a good idea. Each block, you base it on a time zone, you send out your Santas in waves as you get dark in different time zones.

Art: That makes a lot of sense.

Matt: How do you coordinate those Santas, though?

Chad: Some elf air traffic controllers.

Matt: There are other things in the sky though. You can't just completely discount that.

Chad: What, like geese? You worried about Santa running into geese?

Matt: No, like planes!
So if Santa were to plan this manually, where would he start?

You probably would want to work through each time zone vertically and then switch over. You’d start on the east coast and go all the way down and then hit the next time zone and do that sort of thing. It gives you a few hours in each time zone.

What problems might Santa face?

I think he's got a little too much weight to carry to be on a lot of the roads.

Matt: Are you calling Santa chunky?

Art: I'm talking about the presents, not him! It would be tough. He would hit traffic, and the fact is if you see Santa on the road, that's going to cause traffic.

So, who has it tougher?

Santa's got it easier. I'd love to write Santa's algorithm for him.

While Santa certainly has plenty of things to consider in his route plan, he has it easy compared to the average truck driver. Omnitracs’ Roadnet routing software may not specifically factor in reindeer, time to eat cookies, or the bedtimes of children, but it does factor in business constraints such as customer time windows, truck type and size, open/close times, and many others. Ultimately, Santa has Christmas magic. Truck drivers have Omnitracs Roadnet tools.

Opinions expressed in the content posted here are the personal opinions of the original authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Omnitracs, LLC or its subsidiaries ("Omnitracs"). The content is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be an endorsement or representation by Omnitracs or any other party. This site may also provide links or references to non-Omnitracs sites and resources. Omnitracs makes no representations, warranties, or other commitments whatsoever about any non-Omnitracs sites or third-party resources that may be referenced, accessible from, or linked to this site.