World Economic Forum Names HAPS a Top 10 Emerging Technology

Imagine floating internet towers, beaming high-speed connectivity to remote regions. Buckle up, because the World Economic Forum (WEF) just named High-Altitude Platform Stations (HAPS) as a game-changer for global communications! In its report examining how the Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2024 will impact the world, the WEF named HAPS as one of the top 10 emerging technologies of the year. This recognition highlights the transformative potential of HAPS in revolutionizing global connectivity and communications infrastructure.

What are HAPS?

HAPS are unmanned aircraft or balloons that operate in the stratosphere. Fixed-wing aircraft, hydrogen-powered aircraft, high-altitude balloons, and airships are the major types of the diverse platforms being developed and deployed. They serve as relay stations for communication signals, providing connectivity to remote and underserved areas where traditional infrastructure like satellites or terrestrial towers is insufficient or impractical.

The Impact of HAPS

The WEF report underscores the unique advantages of HAPS in delivering connectivity, coverage, and performance enhancements that “neither satellites nor terrestrial towers can match,” according to the report. This is particularly crucial in areas with challenging terrains such as mountains, jungles, or deserts. Only 35 percent of Earth’s landmass currently has internet coverage, leaving approximately 2.6 billion people without internet access, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). By providing reliable internet access, HAPS can bridge the digital divide, offering new educational, healthcare, and economic opportunities to communities that are currently underserved.

“At KAUST, we are enthusiastic about advancing research in the field of HAPS. These platforms promise to bridge the global digital divide by extending connectivity to underserved populations and paving the way for new opportunities for prosperity, as highlighted by the steering group of the World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” said Mohamed-Slim Alouini, Al-Khawrizmi Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Holder UNESCO Chair on Education to Connect the Unconnected, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

Bridging the Digital Divide

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of internet access, revealing how connectivity disparities exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities. HAPS technology has the potential to address these disparities by enabling access to essential services and opportunities. This could be a game-changer for remote and underserved communities, empowering them with the tools needed for a better future.

Investment and Advancements

Significant investments from aerospace engineering leaders have propelled the development of HAPS. Advancements in materials, propulsion systems, and solar cell technology have made HAPS economically viable for commercial deployment. Organizations with expertise in developing long-endurance HAPS are driving its evolution, ensuring its readiness for real-world applications. Several technological advancements have converged to make HAPS a viable solution in the near term:

  • Solar Panel Efficiency: Improved solar panel technology allows HAPS to harness and store solar energy more effectively, enabling longer operational durations.
  • Green hydrogen advances: Green hydrogen internal combustion engines or green hydrogen fuel cells that can provide other new efficient power options for HAPS
  • Battery Energy Density: Advances in battery technology have increased energy storage capacity, supporting extended flight times.
  • Lightweight Composite Materials: New materials reduce the weight of HAPS, enhancing their performance and endurance.
  • Autonomous Avionics and Antennas: Innovations in avionics and antenna technology enhance the autonomous operation and communication capabilities of HAPS.
  • Expanded Frequency Bands and New Aviation Standards: Regulatory developments have opened up new frequency bands and established standards that support the deployment of HAPS.

Looking Ahead

As HAPS technology continues to evolve, it holds the promise of revolutionizing global communications infrastructure. By providing reliable, high-performance connectivity to the most remote and challenging locations on Earth, HAPS can play a pivotal role in creating a more connected and equitable world.

The WEF’s recognition of HAPS as one of the top 10 emerging technologies of 2024 underscores its potential to make a significant impact on global connectivity, bridging gaps and creating new pathways to prosperity.

Get Involved

Discover more about HAPS by joining the HAPS Alliance, where you’ll access essential research, resources, and support to thrive in the evolving field of stratospheric telecommunications. We welcome all companies interested in the HAPS ecosystem to become HAPS Alliance members. Our membership levels—Principal, General, and Supporter—are open to organizations across all industry sectors. Principal and General members can participate in various initiatives, including working groups, member-only meetings, and collaborations with other members on technology components and use cases to enable a smarter world.