Delivering presents to every child around the world in a single evening is an exhausting task, with only one man fit for the job – Father Christmas.
But his outdated techniques seem more antiquated now than ever before.
MailOnline spoke to a forward-thinking industry expert who offered Father Christmas some helpful advice to make his arduous task more efficient.
Dr Carl Diver, academic lead at Manchester Metropolitan University in industry 4.0, said a hydrogen-powered sleigh, AI algorithms and elf-assisting robots could help.
As well as streamlining production and making the manufacturing and delivery process more efficient, Dr Diver thinks the old methods would benefit from a sprucing up to make things easier, more cost-effective and better for the environment.
A hydrogen-powered sleigh, AI algorithms and elf-assisting robots could help Santa deliver presents to every child around the world in a single evening
Hydrogen fuel cells are a burgeoning avenue for renewable energy which produces no unwanted emissions, with the only waste product being H2O – pure water.
Trains, cars and boats are already toying with the idea of switching to hydrogen due to its low costs and eco-friendly virtues.
‘Santa would find it very easy to fill up a hydrogen-powered sleigh. It’s much quicker to refuel than an electric motor which can take up to 40 minutes to charge,’ Dr Divers told MailOnline.
But despite the promise of hydrogen power, it would unlikely be as efficient or fast as Rudolph and the gang.
Dr Diver said he doesn’t think a hydrogen-powered sleigh should replace the reindeer, but be present in the event of a disaster on Christmas Eve.
Dr Carl Diver, from Manchester Metropolitan University, says that a hydrogen-powered sleigh would provide a good back up in case Rudolph and the gang get hurt or poorly on Christmas Eve. Hydrogen fuel cells are a burgeoning avenue for renewable energy which produces no unwanted emission, with the only waste product being H2O – pure water
‘Time is of the essence on Christmas Eve, and if the reindeer are ill or injured, having a hydrogen-powered sleigh as a back-up would make a lot of sense,’ he says.
‘From a sustainability and emissions point of view there is an issue around methane and CO2, causing major issues for agriculture.
‘Maybe the reindeer are not the most energy-efficient form of transport that is available to Santa.’
Amer Gaffar, director of the University’s Manchester Hydrogen Fuel Cell Innovation Centre, told MailOnline: ‘A hydrogen fuel cell powered sleigh would be quieter, which makes for less intrusive night time deliveries by the big man in red.
‘The estimated carbon footprint of his Christmas Eve globetrotting is around 367,000 tonnes – which is massive, particularly for just one individual.’
For a single individual in the UK, the average carbon footprint is around 10 tonnes a year.
HOW DO HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS WORK?
Hydrogen fuel cells create electricity to power a battery and motor by mixing hydrogen and oxygen in specially treated plates, which are combined to form the fuel cell stack.
Fuel cell stacks and batteries have allowed engineers to significantly shrink these components to even fit neatly inside a family car, although they are also commonly used to fuel buses and other larger vehicles.
Oxygen is collected from the air through intakes, usually in the grille, and hydrogen is stored in aluminium-lined fuel tanks, which automatically seal in an accident to prevent leaks.
These ingredients are fused, releasing usable electricity and water as byproducts and making the technology one of the quietest and most environmentally friendly available.
Reducing the amount of platinum used in the stack has made fuel cells less expensive, but the use of the rare metal has restricted the spread of their use.
Recent research has suggested hydrogen fuel cell cars could one day challenge electric cars in the race for pollution-free roads, however – but only if more stations are built to fuel them.
Fuel cell cars can be refueled as quickly as gasoline-powered cars and can also travel further between fill-ups.
Fuelling stations cost up to £1.5 million ($2 million) to build, so companies have been reluctant to build them unless more fuel cell cars are on the road.
The U.S. Department of Energy lists just 34 public hydrogen fuelling stations in the country; all but three are in California.
According to Information Trends, there were 6,475 FCV’s worldwide at the end of 2017.
More than half were registered in California, which puts the U.S. (53 per cent) at the forefront for FCV adoption.
Japan takes second place with 38 per cent, while Europe is at nine per cent.
AI and digitisation
The world of industry has embraced artificial intelligence (AI) as it allows businesses to become far more efficient.
Santa, if he hasn’t already, may benefit from developing his own algorithms.
Dr Diver said: ”The way AI probably helps industry the most is by predicting things before they happen and allowing businesses to predict what will go wrong.
‘Algorithms can monitor various sensors and know that is a certain sequence of alarms or sensors are triggered, it may mean that a pump or a motor will break in a week’s time.
‘Knowing its going to happen means it can be fixed, instead of failing and costing a day of production.
‘With the need to make toys for every person in the world, having everything working all the time is essential for Santa.’
But while ensuring the Lapland operation is in full flow year-round, AI also offers Santa the ability to know what the most-wanted Christmas present will be.
‘From a Santa point of view,’ Dr Diver continues, ‘ AI and big data would allow him to predict what people are interested in.
‘If he can tap into what kids are doing and what they want he could know what they want before they do and can plan that in to production timelines.’
WHY ARE PEOPLE SO WORRIED ABOUT AI?
It is an issue troubling some of the greatest minds in the world at the moment, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk.
SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk described AI as our ‘biggest existential threat’ and likened its development as ‘summoning the demon’.
He believes super intelligent machines could use humans as pets.
Professor Stephen Hawking said it is a ‘near certainty’ that a major technological disaster will threaten humanity in the next 1,000 to 10,000 years.
They could steal jobs
More than 60 percent of people fear that robots will lead to there being fewer jobs in the next ten years, according to a 2016 YouGov survey.
And 27 percent predict that it will decrease the number of jobs ‘a lot’ with previous research suggesting admin and service sector workers will be the hardest hit.
As well as posing a threat to our jobs, other experts believe AI could ‘go rogue’ and become too complex for scientists to understand.
A quarter of the respondents predicted robots will become part of everyday life in just 11 to 20 years, with 18 percent predicting this will happen within the next decade.
They could ‘go rogue’
Computer scientist Professor Michael Wooldridge said AI machines could become so intricate that engineers don’t fully understand how they work.
If experts don’t understand how AI algorithms function, they won’t be able to predict when they fail.
This means driverless cars or intelligent robots could make unpredictable ‘out of character’ decisions during critical moments, which could put people in danger.
For instance, the AI behind a driverless car could choose to swerve into pedestrians or crash into barriers instead of deciding to drive sensibly.
They could wipe out humanity
Some people believe AI will wipe out humans completely.
‘Eventually, I think human extinction will probably occur, and technology will likely play a part in this,’ DeepMind’s Shane Legg said in a recent interview.
He singled out artificial intelligence, or AI, as the ‘number one risk for this century’.
Musk warned that AI poses more of a threat to humanity than North Korea.
‘If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea,’ the 46-year-old wrote on Twitter.
‘Nobody likes being regulated, but everything (cars, planes, food, drugs, etc) that’s a danger to the public is regulated. AI should be too.’
Musk has consistently advocated for governments and private institutions to apply regulations on AI technology.
He has argued that controls are necessary in order protect machines from advancing out of human control
Installing a ‘VR cave’ at Santa’s base in the North Pole may allow him to tackle tricky modern problems and come up with his own unique solutions to allow him to safely and quickly navigate the billions of houses he will visit on Christmas Eve
Dr Diver explains how training with AI, already used by emergency forces and sports stars, might be of use to Santa.
It is a valuable piece of technology which can make it very easy to visualise a foreign environment and the best way to tackle an unfamiliar problem.
Santa in 2019 will be faced with flats with no chimney, electric fires and sensitive intruder alarms, all tricky prospects for the man in red.
But installing a ‘VR cave’ at his base in the North Pole may allow him to tackle these tricky problems and come up with his own unique solutions.
‘Santa has to go in lots of houses and know where the tray of cookies and the trees are in all if them.
‘If he could make digital twins of all the houses he could plan his route and how he will navigate around the houses before setting out.
‘A Santa VR cave in the North Pole would be very useful in making sure he doesn’t struggle with the more difficult chimneys and houses.’
WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY?
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of an environment or situation.
- It immerses the user by making them feel like they are in the simulated reality throughimages and sounds
- For example, in VR, you could feel like you’re climbing a mountain while sat at home
Virtual reality is the term used to describe A three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person.
That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.
How is virtual reality achieved?
Virtual reality is usually implemented using computer technology. There are a range of systems that are used for this purpose, such as headsets, omni-directional treadmills and special gloves.
These are used to actually stimulate our senses together in order to create the illusion of reality.
The remote location of Santa’s home means every letter from children around the world has to be sent to him by post.
Experts in industry have long moved over to digital modes to improve this process.
‘It is difficult to get to the North Pole and sending all those letters and transporting them is environmentally not ideal,’ Dr Diver says.
‘Carry the weight of all the children’s’ letters all that way produces a lot of emissions, moving to a digital letter system would present a significant saving as well as being better for the planet.’
‘Doing it digitally allows the letters to get to Santa in a timely manner and then AI can come into play with data mining to know what kids are looking for so the elves can make it.’
The remote location of Santa’s home means every letter from children around the world has to be sent by post to him. Dr Diver says that using a digital system – linked up to AI – would make this process far more streamlined
The magical elves that assist Santa year-round to make Christmas such a magical time of year need help coping with all the requests.
And employing robots to help the elves, just like in warehouses across the world, might help with some of the gruelling tasks.
Elves are big in knowledge, but famously short in stature, and balancing manufacturing parts as well as their precarious hats is not their strong point.
Dr Diver says that robots could come into play to help the skilled elf workers do what their best at.
‘Skilled labour and robots don’t need to be in competition and robots should not replace the elves, they should work alongside the elves,’ he says.
‘If robots can do the heavy-lifting and packaging and other simplistic tasks, it frees up the elves to get on with the complex and dexterous business of making gifts.
‘The less time elves are busy doing heavy lifting, transportation and packaging, the more presents thy can be making for Santa to deliver.’
HOW WILL ROBOTS CHANGE THE WORKPLACE BY 2022?
The World Economic Forum has unveiled its latest predictions for the future of jobs.
Its 2018 report surveyed executives representing 15 million employees in 20 economies.
The non-profit expects robots, AI and other forms of automation to drastically change the workplace within the next four years.
Jobs predicted to be displaced: 75 million
Jobs predicted to be created: 133 million
Share of workforce requiring re-/upskilling: 54 per cent
Companies expecting to cut permanent workforce: 50 per cent
Companies expecting to hire specialist contractors: 48 per cent
Companies expecting to grow workforce: 38 per cent
Companies expecting automation to grow workforce: 28 per cent
Traditional presents are made in traditional ways, but the development of 3D printing offers a range of possibilities to lighten the load.
Dr Diver says Father Christmas should consider overhauling his production line and current machinery and replace them with
‘Santa could send his elves to print city in Manchester to train, where they can get support, training and education around all the different printing technologies,’ Dr Diver said.
‘We have more than 60 different 3D printing methods here at the university which would allow him to scale down current equipment and let the 3D printers do all the work.’
He also says that having the ability, and the properly trainer staff, to operate 3D printers would give him the ability to make a wide variety of toys and products.
‘With 3D printing you can produce anything. More versatile and flexibility – if you can think it you can print it.
‘It also allows for more use of personalisation and customisation of products and kids could design their own toys,’ Dr Diver adds.
WHAT IS 3D PRINTING AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
First invented in the 1980s by Chuck Hull, an engineer and physicist, 3D printing technology – also called additive manufacturing – is the process of making an object by depositing material, one layer at a time.
Similarly to how an inkjet printer adds individual dots of ink to form an image, a 3D printer adds material where it is needed, based on a digital file.
Many conventional manufacturing processes involved cutting away excess materials to make a part, and this can lead to wastage of up to 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) for every one pound of useful material, according to the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
By contrast, with some 3D printing processes about 98 per cent of the raw material is used in the finished part, and the method can be used to make small components using plastics and metal powders, with some experimenting with chocolate and other food, as well as biomaterials similar to human cells.
3D printers have been used to manufacture everything from prosthetic limbs to robots, and the process follows these basic steps:
· Creating a 3D blueprint using computer-aided design (CAD) software
· Preparing the printer, including refilling the raw materials such as plastics, metal powders and binding solutions.
· Initiating the printing process via the machine, which builds the object.
· 3D printing processes can vary, but material extrusion is the most common, and it works like a glue gun: the printing material is heated until it liquefies and is extruded through the print nozzle
· Using information from the digital file, the design is split into two-dimensional cross-sections so the printers knows where to put the material
· The nozzle deposits the polymer in thin layers, often 0.1 millimetre (0.004 inches) thick.
· The polymer rapidly solidifies, bonding to the layer below before the build platform lowers and the print head adds another layer (depending on the object, the entire process can take anywhere from minutes to days.)
· After the printing is finished, every object requires some post-processing, ranging from unsticking the object from the build platform to removing support, to removing excess powders.