Santa Claus 2.0: Building drones to replace Rudolph

A Santa Claus we met on the street in Brooklyn also happens to be an electrical engineering hobbyist who wants to 'replace reindeer with drones.'

Alex Roshuk, also known asBrooklyn Santa, in his workshop full of law books, soldering tools and unmanned aerial vehicles.

If you were looking for Santa, you would probably head to the North Pole. But we ran into St. Nick just walking down the street in the Park Slope neighbhorhood of Brooklyn. And this one, who in the off season goes by the same Alex Roshuk, attorney at law, is a tech Santa. He's a longtime hobbyist and electrical engineer, and he invited us into his workshop, which isn't full of elves, it's full of drones.

Brooklyn Santa, as he calls himself, has a house full of law books, soldering tools and unmanned aerial vehicles -- all kinds of drones -- ahe builds them from scratch. Jolly old Alex has been into engineering since he first got interested in radio as a young boy.

"I started reading things like Popular Electronics," he says. "I would go to Manhattan and there was a place called radio row. One day I was in a place and they had a kit. And I thought, 'A radio transmitter kit?' I knew how to solder, I knew where the stores were, I knew something about how transistors worked. So I saved up my money and went down there -- took the R train and nobody came with me, I went all by myself. I had the money in quarters and I paid the guy. I came home, took it out, followed the instructions, soldered everything together. And then I announced to my sisters, 'Turn the radio on, we're going live!'"

Years later Roshuk's intense curiosity about how things work would lead him to become a member of New York City's video art scene who helped connect production houses with artists and eventually start building and flying unmanned aerial vehicles to help himself and his friends get better camera angles. But as a young techie he got a head start on playing Santa around the same time he started playing with radios.

"I've been playing Santa Claus literally since 1966," says Roshuk. "My parents decided to send me to Catholic school even though I'm not Catholic. One of the nuns said to me 'Alex, we need a Santa Claus for the Christmas play. You're not afraid of acting.' I said no, so they said to try this Santa suit on. So there I was a little mini Santa in the sixth grade. My fate had been cast by the sisters of St. Joseph." 

Many years later, the bushy white beard is real and he definitely looks the part without much costuming help. But Roshuk told us he's not your average stand in. He's carefully studied the cultural history of the Santa Claus. And in Roshuck's view, Mr. Claus moves forward just like technology does. 

"Some person asked me why Santa is really building drones -- is he spying on everyone?" he says. "I was like no we're really looking for replacements for the reindeer -- though don't tell them that. They're getting old. It's not like I want to put them out to pasture or anything, it's just times have changed. The original St. Nicholas didn't have a sled, the original St. Nicholas walked around with a stick. Take the good and adapt it to the future, am I right? I mean Santa Clause is not stuck in the fourth century. He started in the fourth century, but as far as I can tell, he's a perennial archetype of the holiday season, you know?"

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

Alex Roshuk, also known asBrooklyn Santa, in his workshop full of law books, soldering tools and unmanned aerial vehicles.

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