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Ho, Ho, Ho, Santa Uses RFID

At Santa Claus Office in Finland, St. Nick's elves give EPC Gen 2 tags to visiting boys and girls, who wear them so he knows who's naughty or nice.
By Rhea Wessel
Dec 17, 2007In the Arctic Circle, at a site located more than 800 kilometers north of Helsinki, Santa Claus is using radio frequency identification to manage his office and the thousands of pictures his elves take each day. Santa Claus Office has been operating near Rovaniemi, Finland, since 1992, and this year moved to a new building. As part of those changes, St. Nick and his helpers implemented an RFID system to improve sales of photos of himself with his fans, and to manage visitors' personal information.

The facility is open every day of the year. During the high season, between November and March, some 500,000 people visit the office and other attractions in the village, which has been a tourist hub for decades. Among these attractions is Finland's largest post office (Santa gets a lot of mail).


Santa holds one of the RFID interrogators installed at his office.
Entry into Santa's office is free. Individuals and groups can register at the front desk and receive a plastic souvenir card, about the size of a business card, which hangs by a ribbon around a person's neck. At this point, a multilingual elf collects information on whether Laura has been naughty or nice, and what Wolfgang wants for Christmas. This data is then stored in middleware and linked to the unique ID contained in the EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tag visitors attach to their cards.

Three RFID-enabled printers are set up in the entryway. Visitors serve themselves at the printers, taking an adhesive label already separated from its backing and sticking it on the back of the souvenir card. Initially, visitors were given an RFID label that slipped into a plastic sleeve on the card's back, but the system designers switched to adhesive labels to keep costs down. The goal was to deploy a system employing an RFID tag that costs less than 15 euro cents ($0.22) and allows visitors to decline the tag if they choose. Visitors are informed about the tags before entering.

In the entranceway to Santa's office, an RFID interrogator reads the card's tag for the first time. The information collected allows security officials to ensure a steady flow of visitors, without overcrowding. Visitors browse through Santa's library and other rooms, then move on to one of two offices at a predetermined appointment time, printed on the RFID label. (Two Santas work simultaneously to fulfill as many wishes as possible.)

Each office is outfitted with an RFID portal reader and antennas to interrogate the tags of incoming visitors. Once a party enters the room, data provided voluntarily about each visitor pops up on a screen inside a big golden book that Santa keeps on his lap. In this way, he knows if Cynthia brushed her teeth this morning, or if Paul was a good boy, allowing St. Nick to personalize the experience for the children. A camera system installed in the room is in sync with the RFID reader, so photographs and videos are taken automatically and linked to the unique ID on each card via a timestamp.

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