Saturday, December 1, 2012

WebGL, Virtual Globes, and Santa

I've been quiet on this blog recently; in addition to teaching GPU Programming and Architecture again, I have been working on a fun project using WebGL and Cesium, our virtual globe, to help NORAD track Santa this Christmas Eve.

NORAD has a long history of tracking Santa. The NORAD Tracks Santa site is very popular, last year it received 19 million unique visitors over the holiday season. NORAD has provided a 3D globe with Santa's real-time location on Christmas Eve before. However, thanks to WebGL, this is the first time the globe does not require a plugin, so I expect 3D will reach even more people.

I wrote a blog post on the Cesium website with many of the tech details: rendering global terrain, imagery, stars, etc. However, some of the biggest challenges weren't strictly technical, for example, how do you design a UI for 5-10 year-olds and their parents?

Of course I am excited about this opportunity for Cesium, but I also see this as a huge opportunity for WebGL. APIs need killer apps to drive adoption. Although there are lots of amazing WebGL demos, there are few WebGL apps that have reached the masses with a compelling better experience. This needs to change, and I hope NORAD Tracks Santa is one step in that direction.

Our globe will be live Christmas Eve at In the meantime, there is the tech preview I wrote and instructions for getting WebGL, but if you're reading this blog, I'm pretty sure you already know how to do that.

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