Google teams with NORAD to track Santa on Christmas Eve

High-resolution Santa Cam images available on smartphones for the first time this year

Want to know what time Santa will be touching down Christmas Eve to fill your stockings and drink the glass of milk you've left for him?

Google is teaming up with NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) to help you make your holiday visit calculations this year, and this year it's going mobile.

Google announced Tuesday afternoon that children -- and even all the big kids out there -- will be able to track St. Nick's journey around the world using Google Maps and Google Earth.

"The partnership between Google and NORAD to bring the NORAD Tracks Santa Program to children around the world has been a perfect fit," said Stacia Reddish, a NORAD Tracks Santa program manager.

"Google has the server power needed for the program, and the fabulous people required in the mapping arena to ensure children know where Santa will be as he makes his trek around the globe," Reddish said.

While this isn't the first time that Google has helped people track Santa's big trip, this is the first year that they can follow him via their mobile phones with Google Maps for Mobile, and using Twitter by adding @noradsanta.

"I always thought NORAD's Santa Tracker was a great holiday tradition, but I felt like it could have been even better if people could visualize exactly where Santa was on Christmas Eve," wrote Brian McClendon, an engineering director at Google, in a blog post.

"In addition to our 'Santa Cam' footage, geo-located photos from Panoramio will be viewable in Google Maps for each of Santa's stops that don't include video," McClendon said.

The tracking begins at 6 a.m. EST on Christmas Eve. Google noted that a Google Map with Santa's current location will appear at the Web site www.noradsanta.org, and will be updated as his journey progresses.

People also can track Santa in 3D in Google Earth by downloading a special NORAD Tracks Santa plug-in. Google added that they will have high-resolution Santa Cam video of the jolly man flying by different locations around the world.

McClendon wrote in his blog that last year Google became NORAD's official Santa Tracking technology partner and hosted www.noradsanta.org. "The heavy traffic -- several millions of users -- put Google's infrastructure to the test, but with some heroic work by our system reliability engineers, the Santa Tracker worked continuously," he wrote.

He added that Google has upgraded its server capacity for this year. "We're hoping this version of the tracker will be the best yet," McClendon said.

NORAD has been tracking Santa since 1958, and has been tracking him via the Web since 1998.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at  @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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