There have been a ton of questions about what a drone actually is. After carrying my rigs around sxsw and fielding a ton of questions, I found it was just easier to describe my remote control quadcopters and hexacopters as drones. People just seemed to understand and accept that. If I was carrying a more traditional RC helicopter, I think people would just call it a helicopter. Multirotor aircraft have generally never really been used outside of RC, so they just look foreign to most people. When you put bright LED lights, some people also like to call them UFO's.. surely the stability offered by onboard flight controllers helps this comparison out.
So does the presence of a flight controller make this more drone than a regular RC heli or airplane? I don't think so, because the flight controllers I use just filter out all the effects of wind, imbalance, and many other things that make the aircraft deviate from exactly what I want to do. To put it simply, the flight controller actually makes me in much more control than an RC aircraft without a flight controller.
What about autonomy? There are many systems that allow you to put in GPS waypoints, altitude, speed, etc that allows you to fly at a much higher level of precision. Are these systems autonomous? Until the Viceland Drone Day panel, I considered this autonomy. However, after listening to a compelling argument from Gene from RP Search Services, I no longer think this is actually autonomous. He argued that because a human is still directing the flight despite not flying directly, it should not be considered autonomous. When you put your airplane on autopilot, it is not making any decisions it is just following your directions. So in my opinion, autonomy will come about when you give directions to choose between two or more things and there will certainly be many different levels of self directed control. "Fly to point A and choose a safe speed" will be much different than "Choose between point A,B,C as needed to accomplish task."
The connotations surrounding the word "Drone" are changing rapidly and many in the RC and FPV community do not like it because it makes an uncomfortable link to remote killings and surveillance. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about all things related to FPV, multicopters, and RC and I have no fear of citizens using or abusing RC aircraft or "drones" but I do think that governments have the resources and motivations to potentially abuse these systems. It is far more important to regulate the domestic use of RC aircraft and drones by our federal government than to stifle innovations and businesses looking to explore commercial uses for these technologies.
So What is a Drone?