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

by Brian Caulfield

Got an NVIDIA GeForce GPU under the tree? You might want to unwrap that present early.

Every Christmas Eve, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) reports on the whereabouts of Santa Claus on “NORAD Tracks Santa,” at, as the jolly elf makes his rounds delivering presents to the world’s children.

This year’s NORAD Santa Tracker was put together with some help from Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI), a 250-person company that develops analysis and visualization software for the aerospace, intelligence, and defense communities.

Patrick Cozzi, a senior software developer for AGI can’t say much about how NORAD uses his company’s software.

But he can talk about his firm’s role in NORAD’s Santa tracking efforts, which, for the record, rely on the same set of satellites, fighter jets, and powerful radar installations the joint U.S.-Canadian defense organization has used to monitor the airspace over North America since 1958.

That network is supplemented by ‘Santa Cams,’ that allow NORAD to offer an up-to-the- moment report on Santa’s movements to the world’s children.

NORAD tracking Santa as he makes his rounds.
No plugin required.

This Christmas Eve NORAD will rely on an open-source WebGL globe and map engine Cozzi and his colleagues started called ‘Cesium’ to show Santa’s whereabouts as he makes his rounds.

WebGL taps into GPUs to render images in a web page (for more details, see Cozzi’s detailed explanation, here). That allows NORAD to serve up maps with jaw-dropping realism. No special plugin required.

You won’t need dual GeForce GTX 680 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, Cozzi says.

But if you want a present, you’ll still need to be nice. No matter what GPU you’re running.