Drone. It’s a word that creates quite a bit of heated controversy of late. The debate often comes from radio control hobbyists — it seems like the entire world has gotten used to using a term that still makes hobbyists cringe.
The radio control hobby existed for quite sometime before multirotors became extremely popular. Particularly in 2013 and 2014, the consumer-grade drone industry has completely exploded and this has caused some disruption in various pre-existing niches. Experienced and knowledgeable people tend to refer to these craft as multirotors, tricopters, quadcopters, hexacopters etc. Often times these are the people who are wary of the millions of flyers who received a small multirotor as a gift or a toy in the past couple of years and are using it without much guidance or instruction.
The word “drone” admittedly has an overall negative connotation. The word is what most people (until the last couple of years) would call large, autonomous military aerial systems designed for combat or surveillance. You can imagine how you would cringe if a hobby you had called your own for a very long time was suddenly and constantly bombarded by a term that had some seriously violent and invasive implications.
Technically, the word “drone” could apply to quite a few consumer-grade quadcopters. You wouldn’t necessarily be incorrect in calling them drones, nor is there anything wrong with calling them that. It is not a bad word. It is just a word.
However, like any niche or industry, there are far more accurate terms to refer to them by: Multirotor, quadcopter, FPV wing, aerial photography platform, miniquad, micro quad etc.. Using those terms will make you appear more informed, experienced and well researched.
Keeping that in mind, two different groups of people need to shoulder some responsibility to bridge the gap on this issue:
Group #1: The people that refer to small consumer grade quadcopters as drones. This group of people could be active members of the media who find that the “D” word generates more clicks and views. Or alternatively (and more often the case) these are often people who have heard this term in the news in association with small quadcopters and naturally assumed this is the most appropriate name.
I would urge Group #1 to educate themselves on more accurate and specific names, terms that are more specific, more descriptive and more accurate depending on the example.
Group #2: Like me, this group may squirm a little when they hear or say the word “drone” to describe a hobby that has given them a lot in terms of a DIY challenge, an engineering feat or a casual activity with friends.
I encourage this group to be patient and not wage a war that probably will not be won. The best path to changing the predominate terminology is not by argument but education. The more educated the average person becomes about our increasingly mainstream hobby, the less impact hearing the word drone will have.
I also encourage Group #2 to do their best to reclaim the word! Although there are negative implications to using the word drone. It’s not too late to actually begin to change the overall perception of what this word means. I think this is something that has already begun to happen.
The word “drone” has a wide definition that a lot of flying craft now fall into. However with little more understanding from all sides on the issue, I think we can begin to not only use more accurate terms to talk about this niche but also begin to repurpose the less accurate terms for better use.