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Tracking Santa, With a Little Help from That Brand New GPU



Bought an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 Ti underneath the tree? Unwrap that existing early.

Each Christmas Eve, the North American Aerospace Safeguard Command (NORAD) stories on the whereabouts of Santa Claus on “NORAD Tracks Santa,” or noradsanta.org.

NORAD commenced monitoring Santa in 1955, when a newspaper advert misprinted a name-in quantity for Santa. As a substitute of Santa, callers bought the crew commander on accountability on the Continental Air Security Command Air Operations Heart – the predecessor to NORAD – in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The crew commander went with it, telling his group of workers to provide callers Santa’s legitimate region.

Monitoring Santa Goes Viral
NTS Web GraphicSince then, NORAD’s efforts have evolved for a connected era. NORAD’s Santa tracking team now has 1.3 million Facebook followers, and — with a little help from a development team led by Scott Hunter at Analytical Graphics, a 250-strong company that develops analysis and visualization software for the aerospace, intelligence and defense community — a site able to report Santa’s location in real time to tens of millions of visitors every Christmas Eve.

While Analytical Graphics — which started working on the Santa Tracker since 1997 — can’t say much about most of the work it does for NORAD, what Santa watchers will be seeing from NORAD this year is anything but classified.

In addition to sparkling waters and terrain rendered in astonishing detail, this year’s map will include a 3D model of Santa and reindeer complete with moving legs, bobbing heads and swaying antlers as Santa zooms around the globe at supersonic speeds.

No Special Software Needed
You won’t need any special software to see this show. NORAD relies on Cesium, an open-source WebGL globe and map engine started by Analytical Graphics. WebGL taps into GPUs to render scenes, and is now supported in the latest version of Internet Explorer.

So all three major browsers can now render NORADs maps. No special plugin required. The 3D Santa and reindeer model is delivered to the browser using glTF, an emerging effort from the Khronos Group for an open-standard 3D model transmission format.

You won’t need dual GeForce GTX 780 GPUs, either. Even an aging GeForce 8800 GT will allow users to watch Santa’s progress on a 1280 by 1084 display at 55 frames per second. But you will need a decent GPU to see all that NORAD’s amazing tracker has to offer.

“It’s completely fair to say that for the best experience you need a decent machine,” says Analytical Graphics Principal Graphics ArchitectPatrick Cozzi.. “Really low-end machines will fall back to a 2D map.” Talk about a lump of coal.