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The 8 Major Forces Shaping the Future of the Global Economy

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The 8 Major Forces Shaping the Future of the Global Economy

I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.

– Jimmy Dean

The world is changing faster than ever before.

With billions of people hyper-connected to each other in an unprecedented global network, it allows for an almost instantaneous and frictionless spread of new ideas and innovations.

Combine this connectedness with rapidly changing demographics, shifting values and attitudes, growing political uncertainty, and exponential advances in technology, and it’s clear the next decade is setting up to be one of historic transformation.

But where do all of these big picture trends intersect, and how can we make sense of a world engulfed in complexity and nuance? Furthermore, how do we set our sails to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this sea of change?

The Intersection of Data and Powerful Visuals

Interpreting massive amounts of data on how the world is changing can be taxing for even the most brilliant thinkers.

For this reason, our entire team at Visual Capitalist is focused on using the power of visual storytelling to make the world’s information more accessible. Our team of information designers works daily to transform complex data into graphics that are both intuitive and insightful, allowing you to see big picture trends from a new perspective.

After all, science says that 65% of people are visual learners – so why not put data in a language they can understand?

While we regularly publish our visuals in an online format, our most recent endeavor has been to compile our best charts, infographics, and data visualizations into one place: our new book Visualizing Change: A Data-Driven Snapshot of Our World, a 256-page hardcover coffee-table book on the forces shaping business, wealth, technology, and the economy.

The book focuses on eight major themes ranging from shifting human geography to the never-ending evolution of money. And below, we present some of the key visualizations in the book that serve as examples relating to each major theme.

1. The Tech Invasion

For most of the history of business, the world’s leading companies have been industrially-focused.

Pioneers like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison innovated in the physical realm using atoms – they came up with novel ways to re-organize these atoms to create things like the assembly line and the incandescent lightbulb. Then, companies invested massive amounts of capital to build physical factories, pay thousands of workers, and build these things.

The majority of the great blue chip companies were built this way: IBM, U.S. Steel, General Electric, Walmart, and Ford are just some examples.

But today’s business reality is very different. We live in a world of bytes – and for the first time technology and commerce have collided in a way that makes data far more valuable than physical, tangible objects.

The best place to see this is in how the market values businesses.

Market capitalization of tech companies

As you can see above, companies like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have supplanted traditional blue chip companies that build physical things.

The tech invasion is leveraging connectivity, network effects, artificial intelligence, and unprecedented scale to create global platforms that are almost impossible to compete with. The tech invasion has already taken over retail and advertising – and now invading forces have their eyes set on healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and education.

Will atoms ever be more valuable than bytes again?

Interesting Facts:

2. The Evolution of Money

Money is arguably one of humanity’s most important inventions. From beaver pelts to gold bars, the form and function of money has constantly fluctuated throughout history.

In the modern world, the definition of money is blurrier than ever. Central banks have opted to create trillions of dollars of currency out of thin air since the financial crisis – and on the flipside, you can actually use blockchain technology to create your own competing cryptocurrency in just a few clicks.

Regardless of what is money and what is not, people are borrowing record amounts of it.

The world has now amassed $247 trillion in debt, including $63 trillion borrowed by central governments:

Global debt by gdp

In today’s unusual monetary circumstances, massive debt loads are just one anomaly.

Here are other examples that illustrate the evolution of money: Venezuela has hyperinflated away almost all of its currency’s value, the “War on Cash” is raging on around the world, central banks are lending out money at negative interest rates (Sweden, Japan, Switzerland, etc.), and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are collectively worth over $200 billion.

How we view money – and how that perception evolves over time – is an underlying factor that influences our future.

Interesting Facts:

3. The Wealth Landscape

Wealth is not stagnant – and so for those looking to make the most out of global opportunities, it’s imperative to get a sense of how the wealth landscape is changing.

The modern view is either extremely healthy or bubbly, depending on how you look at it: Amazon and Apple are worth over $1 trillion, Jeff Bezos has a $100+ billion fortune, and the current bull market is the longest in modern history at 10 years.

Will this growth continue, and where will it come from?

Here’s one look based on projections from the World Bank:

Where is Global Growth Happening?

Despite these estimates, there is a laundry list of items that the ultra-wealthy are concerned about – everything from the expected comeback of inflation to a world where geopolitical black swans seem to be growing more common.

Here’s why those building and protecting wealth are rightly concerned about such events:

Geopolitical black swans and the S&P 500

But the wealth landscape is not all just about billionaires and massive companies – it is changing in other interesting ways as well. For example, the definition of wealth itself is taking on a new meaning, with millennials leading a charge towards sustainable investing rather than being entirely focused on monetary return.

How will the wealth landscape look a decade from now?

Interesting Facts:

4. Eastern Promises

The economic rise of China has been a compelling story for decades.

Up until recently, we’ve only been able to get a preview of what the Eastern superpower is capable of – and in the coming years, these promises will come to fruition at a scale that will still be baffling to many.

Understandably, the scope of China’s population and economy can still be quite difficult to put into perspective.

The following map may help, as it combines both elements together to show that China has countless cities each with a higher economic productivity than entire countries.

China cities vs. country GDPs

In fact, China has over 100 cities with more than 1,000,000 inhabitants. These cities, many of which fly below the radar on the global stage, each have impressive economies – whether they are built upon factories, natural resource production, or the information economy.

As one impressive example, the Yangtze River Delta – a single region which contains Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Wuxi, Nantong, Ningbo, Nanjing, and Changzhou – has a GDP (PPP) of $2.6 trillion, which is more than Italy.

Interesting Facts:

Don’t forget: our new book covers
all of these eight themes in detail:

5. Accelerating Technological Progress

As we’ve already seen, there are many facets of change that will impact our shared future.

But here’s the kicker: when it comes to technological progress, the rate of change itself is actually getting faster and faster. Each year brings more technological advancements than the last, and once the exponential “hockey stick” kicks into overdrive, innovations could happen at a blindsiding pace.

This could be described as a function of Moore’s Law, and the law of accelerating returns is also something that futurists like Ray Kurzweil have talked about for decades.

Interestingly, there is another offshoot of accelerating change that applies more to the business and economic world. Not only is the speed of change getting faster, but for various reasons, markets are able to adopt new technologies faster:

The accelerating rate of technology adoption

New products can achieve millions of users in just months, and the game Pokémon Go serves as an interesting case study of this potential. The game amassed 50 million users in just 19 days, which is a blink of an eye in comparison to automobiles (62 years), the telephone (50 years), or credit cards (28 years).

As new technologies are created at a faster and faster pace – and as they are adopted at record speeds by markets – it’s fair to say that future could be coming at a breakneck speed.

Interesting Facts:
Future tech facts

6. The Green Revolution

It’s no secret that our civilization is in the middle of a seismic shift to more sustainable energy sources.

But to fully appreciate the significance of this change, you need to look at the big picture of energy over time. Below is a chart of U.S. energy consumption from 1776 until today, showing that the energy we use to power development is not permanent or static throughout history.

Energy Use Since 1776

And with the speed at which technology now moves, expect our energy infrastructure and delivery systems to evolve at an even more blistering pace than we’ve experienced before.

Interesting Facts:

7. Shifting Human Geography

Global demographics are always shifting, but the population tidal wave in the coming decades will completely reshape the global economy.

In Western countries and China, populations will stabilize due to fertility rates and demographic makeups. Meanwhile, on the African continent and across the rest of Asia, booming populations combined with rapid urbanization will translate into the growth of megacities, holding upwards of 50 million people.

By the end of the 21st century, this animation shows that Africa alone could contain at least 13 megacities that are bigger than New York:

Megacities demographic animation

By this time, it’s projected that North America, Europe, South America, and China will combine to hold zero of the world’s 20 most populous cities. What other game-changing shifts to human geography will occur during this stretch?

Interesting Facts:

8. The Trade Paradox

By definition, a consensual and rational trade between two parties is one that makes both parties better off.

Based on this microeconomic principle, and also on the consensus by economists that free trade is ultimately beneficial, countries around the world have consistently been working to remove trade barriers since World War II with great success.

But nothing is ever straightforward, and these long-held truths are now being challenged in both societal and political contexts. We now seem to be trapped in a trade paradox in which politicians give lip service to free trade, but often take action in the opposite direction.

To get a sense of how important trade can be between two nations, we previously documented the ongoing relationship between the U.S. and Canada, in which each country is the best customer of the other:

USA/CAN Trade Relationship

With the recent USMCA agreement, the two countries seem to have sorted their differences for now – but the trade paradox will continue to be an ongoing theme in economics and investing at a global level for many years to come, especially as the trade war against China rages on.

Points to Consider:

How You Can Visualize Change

The forces behind change are not always evident to the naked eye, but we believe that by fusing data, art, and storytelling together that we can create powerful context on the trends shaping our future.

If you enjoyed our summary above, you can explore these ideas further with our book “Visualizing Change”, which offers 256 pages of infographics, data visualizations, and charts on the future direction of the global economy and technology.

Get your copy of Visualizing Change today

Our book makes a great holiday gift. Get it on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca, or even customize a bulk order with your logo

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Technology

The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Capitalization

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The World’s Top Car Manufacturers by Market Cap

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

Ever since Apple and other Big Tech companies hit a market capitalization of $1 trillion, many sectors are revving to follow suit—including the automotive industry.

But among those car brands racing to reach this total valuation, some are closer to the finish line than others. This visualization uses data from Yahoo Finance to rank the world’s top car manufacturers by market capitalization.

What could this spell for the future of the automotive industry?

A special hat-tip to Brandon Knoblauch for compiling the original, regularly-updated spreadsheet.

The World’s Top Car Manufacturers

It’s clear one company is pulling far ahead of the pack. In the competition to clinch this coveted title, Tesla is the undoubted favorite so far.

The electric vehicle (EV) and clean energy company first became the world’s most valuable car manufacturer in June 2020, and shows no signs of slowing its trajectory.

RankCompanyMarket Cap (US$B)Country
#1Tesla$795.8🇺🇸 U.S.
#2Toyota$207.5🇯🇵 Japan
#3Volkswagen$96.7🇩🇪 Germany
#4BYD$92.7🇨🇳 China
#5NIO$89.5🇨🇳 China
#6Daimler$72.8🇩🇪 Germany
#7General Motors$71.3🇺🇸 U.S.
#8BMW$54.2🇩🇪 Germany
#9Stellantis$54.2🇳🇱 Netherlands
#10Ferrari$52.5🇮🇹 Italy
#11Honda$46.9🇯🇵 Japan
#12Hyundai$46.8🇰🇷 South Korea
#13SAIC$45.2🇨🇳 China
#14Geely$39.5🇨🇳 China
#15Ford$39.4🇺🇸 U.S.
#16Xpeng$33.9🇨🇳 China
#17Maruti Suzuki$33.1🇮🇳 India
#18Li Auto$29.5🇨🇳 China
#19Suzuki$23.7🇯🇵 Japan
#20Nissan$20.1🇯🇵 Japan
#21Subaru$15.2🇯🇵 Japan
#22Changan$14.6🇨🇳 China
#23Mahindra$13.9🇮🇳 India
#24Renault$12.0🇫🇷 France

All data as of January 15, 2021 (9:30AM PST)

Tesla’s competitive advantage comes as a result of its dedicated emphasis on research and development (R&D). In fact, many of its rivals have admitted that Tesla’s electronics far surpass their own—a teardown revealed that its batteries and AI chips are roughly six years ahead of other industry giants such as Toyota and Volkswagen.

The Green Revolution is Underway

The sheer growth of Tesla may spell the inevitability of a green revolution in the industry. Already, many major brands have followed in the company’s tracks, announcing their own ambitious plans to add more EVs to their vehicle line-ups.

Here’s how a selection of car manufacturers are embracing the electric future:

Toyota: Ranked #2

The second-most valuable car manufacturer in the world, Toyota is steadily ramping up its EV output. In 2020, it produced 10,000 EVs and plans to increase this to 30,000 in 2021.

Through this gradual increase, the company hopes to hit an expected target of 500,000 EVs by 2025. Toyota also aims to debut 10 new models internationally to achieve this goal.

Volkswagen: Ranked #3

By 2025, Volkswagen plans to invest $86 billion into digital and EV technologies. Considering the car manufacturer generates the most gross revenue per second of all automakers, it’s no wonder Volkswagen is looking to the future in order to keep such numbers up.

The company is also well-positioned to ride the wave of a potential consumer shift towards EVs in Europe. In response to the region’s strict emissions targets, Volkswagen upped its planned sales proportions for European hybrid and EV sales from 40% to 60% by 2030.

BYD and Nio: Ranked #4-5

China jumped on the electric bandwagon early. Eager to make its mark as a global leader in the emerging technology of lithium ion batteries (an essential component of any EV), the Chinese government handed out billions of dollars in subsidies—fueling the growths of domestic car manufacturers BYD and Nio alike.

BYD gained the interest and attention of its billionaire backer Warren Buffett, while Nio is China’s response to Tesla and an attempt to capture the EV market locally.

General Motors: Ranked #7

Also with a 2025 target year in mind, General Motors is investing $27 billion into electric and fully autonomous vehicles. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too—the company also hopes to launch 30 new fully electric vehicles by the same year.

One particular factor is giving GM confidence: its new EV battery creations. They will be able to extend the range of its new EVs to 400 miles (644km) on a single charge, at a rate that rivals Tesla’s Model S.

Stellantis: Ranked #9

In a long-anticipated move, Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot S.A. finalized their merger into Stellantis N.V. on January 16, 2021.

With the combined forces and funds of a $52 billion deal, the new Dutch-based car manufacturer hopes to rival bigger brands and race even more quickly towards the electric shift.

Honda: Ranked #11

Speaking of fast-paced races, Honda has decided to bow out of future Formula One (F1) World Championships. As these competitions were usually a way for the company to show off its engineering prowess, the move was a surprising one.

However, there’s a noble reason behind this decision. Honda is choosing instead to focus on its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050. To do so, it’ll be shifting its financial resources away from F1 and towards R&D into fuel cell vehicle (FCV) and battery EV (BEV) technologies.

Ford: Ranked #15

Ford knows exactly what its fans want. In that regard, its electrification plans begin with its most popular commercial cars, such as the Mustang Mach-E SUV. This is Ford’s major strategy for attracting new EV buyers, part of a larger $11.5 billion investment agenda into EVs through 2022.

While the car’s specs compare to Tesla’s Model Y, its engineers also drew from the iPhone and Netflix to incorporate an infotainment system and driver profiles to create a truly tech-first specimen.

Speeding into the Horizon

As more and more companies enter the racetrack, EV innovation across the entire industry may power the move to lower overall costs, extend the total range of vehicles, and put any other concerns by potential buyers to rest.

While Tesla is currently in the best position to become the first car manufacturer to reach the $1 trillion milestone, how long will it be for the others to catch up?

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Mapped: Drone Privacy Laws Around the World

By 2025, the global commercial drone market could reach $42.8 billion. With such diverse uses, how do countries navigate drone privacy laws?

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Mapped: Drone Privacy Laws Around the World

View the high-resolution of the infographic by clicking here.

From Olympic opening ceremonies to public safety, drone applications have come a long way.

In fact, their modern applications are set to almost double the total value of the commercial drone market from $22.5 billion to $42.8 billion between 2020-2025, at a 13.8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

Naturally, such diverse and complex uses can go quickly awry if not monitored and regulated correctly by governments—yet in some cases, it’s because of governments that drones’ uses border on sinister.

This in-depth map from Surfshark explores the murky guidelines surrounding drone privacy laws around the world, and some case studies of how they’re used in every region.

How Are Drone Privacy Laws Classified?

According to the map researchers, drone and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) regulations typically fall into one of the following buckets:

  1. Outright ban
  2. Effective ban
  3. Visual line of sight required
    Pilots need to be able to see the drones at all times, and must usually obtain a license or permit
  4. Experimental visual line of sight
    Pilots can let the drone fly outside their field of vision e.g. during a race
  5. Restrictions apply
    Drones need to be registered, and/or additional observers are required
  6. Unrestricted
    When drones are flown around private property and airports, and under 500 feet (150 meters)
  7. No drone-related legislation

Categories are assigned based on legislation as of October 2020.

Clearly, there is some overlap among these categories. They are highly dependent on judgment calls made by specific legal authorities, and change based on what a drone is being used for.

Explore the drone privacy laws in your specific country here:

Country/TerritoryContinentDrone Legal Status (Oct. 2020)
AfghanistanAsiaUnrestricted
AlbaniaEuropeNo drone-related legislation
AlgeriaAfricaOutright ban
AndorraEuropeVisual line of sight required
AngolaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
Antigua and BarbudaNorth AmericaExperimental visual line of sight
ArgentinaSouth AmericaUnrestricted
ArmeniaEuropeNo drone-related legislation
ArubaNorth AmericaVisual line of sight required
AustraliaOceaniaExperimental visual line of sight
AustriaEuropeUnrestricted
AzerbaijanEuropeVisual line of sight required
Bahamas, TheNorth AmericaUnrestricted
BahrainAsiaNo drone-related legislation
BangladeshAsiaUnrestricted
BarbadosNorth AmericaOutright ban
BelarusEuropeNo drone-related legislation
BelgiumEuropeVisual line of sight required
BelizeNorth AmericaEffective ban
BeninAfricaNo drone-related legislation
BermudaNorth AmericaVisual line of sight required
BhutanAsiaEffective ban
BoliviaSouth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
Bosnia and HerzegovinaEuropeNo drone-related legislation
BotswanaAfricaVisual line of sight required
BrazilSouth AmericaVisual line of sight required
Brunei DarussalamAsiaOutright ban
BulgariaEuropeEffective ban
Burkina FasoAfricaNo drone-related legislation
BurundiAfricaNo drone-related legislation
Cabo VerdeAfricaVisual line of sight required
CambodiaAsiaNo drone-related legislation
CameroonAfricaVisual line of sight required
CanadaNorth AmericaExperimental visual line of sight
Cayman IslandsNorth AmericaExperimental visual line of sight
Central African RepublicAfricaNo drone-related legislation
ChadAfricaUnrestricted
ChileSouth AmericaVisual line of sight required
ChinaAsiaExperimental visual line of sight
ColombiaSouth AmericaVisual line of sight required
ComorosAfricaNo drone-related legislation
Congo, Dem. Rep.AfricaNo drone-related legislation
Congo, Rep.AfricaNo drone-related legislation
Costa RicaNorth AmericaVisual line of sight required
Cote d'IvoireAfricaOutright ban
CroatiaEuropeVisual line of sight required
CubaNorth AmericaOutright ban
CuracaoNorth AmericaVisual line of sight required
CyprusEuropeVisual line of sight required
Czech RepublicEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
DenmarkEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
DjiboutiAfricaNo drone-related legislation
DominicaNorth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
Dominican RepublicNorth AmericaVisual line of sight required
EcuadorSouth AmericaVisual line of sight required
Egypt, Arab Rep.AfricaEffective ban
El SalvadorNorth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
Equatorial GuineaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
EritreaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
EstoniaEuropeUnrestricted
EthiopiaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
Faroe IslandsEuropeUnrestricted
FijiOceaniaVisual line of sight required
FinlandEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
FranceEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
GabonAfricaNo drone-related legislation
Gambia, TheAfricaNo drone-related legislation
GeorgiaEuropeVisual line of sight required
GermanyEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
GhanaAfricaExperimental visual line of sight
GibraltarEuropeEffective ban
GreeceEuropeUnrestricted
GreenlandNorth AmericaVisual line of sight required
GrenadaNorth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
GuamOceaniaUnrestricted
GuatemalaNorth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
GuineaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
Guinea-BissauAfricaNo drone-related legislation
GuyanaSouth AmericaExperimental visual line of sight
HaitiNorth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
HondurasNorth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
Hong Kong SAR, ChinaAsiaVisual line of sight required
HungaryEuropeUnrestricted
IcelandEuropeVisual line of sight required
IndiaAsiaVisual line of sight required
IndonesiaAsiaVisual line of sight required
Iran, Islamic Rep.AsiaOutright ban
IraqAsiaOutright ban
IrelandEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
IsraelAsiaVisual line of sight required
ItalyEuropeVisual line of sight required
JamaicaNorth AmericaVisual line of sight required
JapanAsiaExperimental visual line of sight
JordanAsiaUnrestricted
KazakhstanEuropeNo drone-related legislation
KenyaAfricaEffective ban
KiribatiOceaniaNo drone-related legislation
Korea, Dem. People’s Rep.AsiaNo drone-related legislation
Korea, Rep.AsiaVisual line of sight required
KosovoEuropeVisual line of sight required
KuwaitAsiaOutright ban
Kyrgyz RepublicAsiaOutright ban
Lao PDRAsiaUnrestricted
LatviaEuropeUnrestricted
LebanonAsiaNo drone-related legislation
LesothoAfricaNo drone-related legislation
LiberiaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
LibyaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
LiechtensteinEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
LithuaniaEuropeVisual line of sight required
LuxembourgEuropeVisual line of sight required
Macao SAR, ChinaAsiaVisual line of sight required
MadagascarAfricaOutright ban
MalawiAfricaVisual line of sight required
MalaysiaAsiaEffective ban
MaldivesAsiaEffective ban
MaliAfricaNo drone-related legislation
MaltaEuropeUnrestricted
Marshall IslandsOceaniaNo drone-related legislation
MauritaniaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
MauritiusAfricaVisual line of sight required
MexicoNorth AmericaVisual line of sight required
Micronesia, Fed. Sts.OceaniaNo drone-related legislation
MoldovaEuropeNo drone-related legislation
MonacoEuropeUnrestricted
MongoliaAsiaNo drone-related legislation
MontenegroEuropeVisual line of sight required
MoroccoAfricaOutright ban
MozambiqueAfricaNo drone-related legislation
MyanmarAsiaEffective ban
NamibiaAfricaVisual line of sight required
NauruOceaniaNo drone-related legislation
NepalAsiaVisual line of sight required
NetherlandsEuropeVisual line of sight required
New CaledoniaOceaniaNo drone-related legislation
New ZealandOceaniaExperimental visual line of sight
NicaraguaNorth AmericaOutright ban
NigerAfricaNo drone-related legislation
NigeriaAfricaEffective ban
North MacedoniaEuropeVisual line of sight required
NorwayEuropeVisual line of sight required
OmanAsiaEffective ban
PakistanAsiaNo drone-related legislation
PalauOceaniaNo drone-related legislation
PanamaNorth AmericaUnrestricted
Papua New GuineaOceaniaVisual line of sight required
ParaguaySouth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
PeruSouth AmericaVisual line of sight required
PhilippinesAsiaVisual line of sight required
PolandEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
PortugalEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
Puerto RicoNorth AmericaExperimental visual line of sight
QatarAsiaUnrestricted
RomaniaEuropeVisual line of sight required
Russian FederationEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
RwandaAfricaExperimental visual line of sight
SamoaOceaniaNo drone-related legislation
San MarinoEuropeNo drone-related legislation
Sao Tome and PrincipeAfricaNo drone-related legislation
Saudi ArabiaAsiaExperimental visual line of sight
SenegalAfricaOutright ban
SerbiaEuropeUnrestricted
SeychellesAfricaVisual line of sight required
Sierra LeoneAfricaNo drone-related legislation
SingaporeAsiaExperimental visual line of sight
Sint Maarten (Dutch part)North AmericaExperimental visual line of sight
Slovak RepublicEuropeVisual line of sight required
SloveniaEuropeOutright ban
Solomon IslandsOceaniaVisual line of sight required
SomaliaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
South AfricaAfricaExperimental visual line of sight
South SudanAfricaNo drone-related legislation
SpainEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
Sri LankaAsiaExperimental visual line of sight
St. Kitts and NevisNorth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
St. LuciaNorth AmericaUnrestricted
St. Martin (French part)North AmericaExperimental visual line of sight
St. Vincent and the GrenadinesNorth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
SudanAfricaNo drone-related legislation
SurinameSouth AmericaNo drone-related legislation
SwazilandAfricaVisual line of sight required
SwedenEuropeUnrestricted
SwitzerlandEuropeUnrestricted
Syrian Arab RepublicAsiaOutright ban
TaiwanAsiaVisual line of sight required
TajikistanAsiaNo drone-related legislation
TanzaniaAfricaVisual line of sight required
ThailandAsiaVisual line of sight required
Timor-LesteAsiaNo drone-related legislation
TogoAfricaNo drone-related legislation
TongaOceaniaNo drone-related legislation
Trinidad and TobagoNorth AmericaExperimental visual line of sight
TunisiaAfricaNo drone-related legislation
TurkeyEuropeUnrestricted
TurkmenistanAsiaNo drone-related legislation
Turks and Caicos IslandsNorth AmericaUnrestricted
TuvaluOceaniaNo drone-related legislation
UgandaAfricaExperimental visual line of sight
UkraineEuropeVisual line of sight required
United Arab EmiratesAsiaVisual line of sight required
United KingdomEuropeExperimental visual line of sight
United StatesNorth AmericaExperimental visual line of sight
UruguaySouth AmericaVisual line of sight required
UzbekistanAsiaOutright ban
VanuatuOceaniaVisual line of sight required
Venezuela, RBSouth AmericaUnrestricted
VietnamAsiaUnrestricted
Yemen, Rep.AsiaNo drone-related legislation
ZambiaAfricaVisual line of sight required
ZimbabweAfricaExperimental visual line of sight

So How Are Drones Used Worldwide?

The myriad of drone uses are literally and metaphorically up in the air—while they originated in military needs, drone uses now range from hobbies such as aerial photography to supporting disaster relief.

The following regional maps show privacy laws in closer detail, while also highlighting interesting case studies on how drones are used.

North America

Drone Privacy Laws 820px North America
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

According to the latest drone numbers, 70.5% of registered U.S. drones are recreational, but these proportions may soon decline in favor of commercial uses. As of December 2020, civilian drones are allowed to fly over populated areas, a step towards fulfilling their potential in package delivery.

Meanwhile, countries like Mexico are beginning to rely on drones to combat crime, with good results. In the city of Ensenada, a single drone’s surveillance patrol resulted in a 10% drop in overall crime rates in 2018. Drones are increasingly being used to monitor illicit activity such as drug trafficking routes.

South America

Drone Privacy Laws 820px South America
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

Interestingly, the environmental applications of drones come into play in the Amazon rainforest. An indigenous tribe in Brazil is using drones to track levels of deforestation and forest fires—and presenting that data evidence to authorities to urge them to act.

Across the continent, drones are also in place to deliver everything from hospital supplies to life jackets in Chile and El Salvador.

Europe

Drone Privacy Laws 820px Europe
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

The first unmanned, radio-controlled aircraft test flight occurred in the United Kingdom in 1917. The Kettering Aerial Target (or “The Bug”) carried 180 pounds of explosives and became the basis for modern missiles.

While Europe has some of the most liberal drone privacy laws today, that doesn’t mean they’re lenient. Even among countries that allow experimental visual lines of sight (such as Finland and Portugal), special permissions are required.

Middle East and Central Asia

Drone Privacy Laws 820px Middle east and central asia
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

The military applications of drones persist in this region. Iran was one of the first to use armed drones and continues to do so, while simultaneously banning their public use.

Neighboring Turkey also relies on kamikaze drones, augmented by AI and facial recognition, to strengthen border security.

Rest of Asia and Oceania

Drone Privacy Laws 820px Rest of Asia Oceania
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

China-based DJI is the world’s largest drone manufacturer, dominating 70% of the global market. Across Asia, drones have been in use for mass surveillance, particularly in China. In recent times, drones also track compliance with strict COVID-19 guidelines in Malaysia and Singapore.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Nokia is testing out a drone network to provide a more rapid response to future natural disasters. The relief capabilities include disseminating more real-time updates and monitoring evacuation progress.

Africa

Drone Privacy Laws 820px Africa
Click here for the high-resolution version of this graphic.

While many parts of Africa haven’t developed any drone-related laws yet, promising innovation is rearing its head. Medical drones are already saving lives in Rwanda, delivering supplies in as little as 15 minutes.

In the same vein, the pioneer African Drone and Data Academy (ADDA) opened in Malawi. The academy promotes drone usage for humanitarian and disaster preparedness, and aims to equip individuals with the relevant skills.

Towards Greater Heights?

As the uses of drones evolve over time, so will their legal status and the privacy concerns surrounding them. However, the adoption of any technology is always accompanied by a certain level of skepticism.

With drones, it remains to be seen whether they’ll mostly occupy the role of a friend or a foe for years to come—and that power lies only in the hands of those who remotely control them.

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