UAVs—unmanned aerial vehicles—facilitate data acquisition at temporal and spatial scales that still remain unachievable for traditional remote sensing platforms. However, current legal frameworks that regulate UAVs present significant barriers to research and development. To highlight the importance, impact, and diversity of UAV regulations, this paper provides an exploratory investigation of UAV regulations on the global scale. For this, the methodological approach consists of a research synthesis of UAV regulations, including a thorough literature review and a comparative analysis of national regulatory frameworks. Similarities and contrasting elements in the various national UAV regulations are explored including their statuses from the perspectives of past, present, and future trends. Since the early 2000s, countries have gradually established national legal frameworks. Although all UAV regulations have one common goal—minimizing the risks to other airspace users and to both people and property on the ground—the results reveal distinct variations in all the compared variables. Furthermore, besides the clear presence of legal frameworks, market forces such as industry design standards and reliable information about UAVs as public goods are expected to shape future developments.
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