in the Manifold Sky setting, the term 'drone' connotes any self-propelled device which is capable of operating independently of direct physical contact with a sentient operator. As of the year 10,000 AR, the term 'drone' generally refers to remote-controlled or dieseltech computer-operated vehicles, models, and weapon emplacements. Generally, a machine must either be controlled by a remote operator, self-propelled under internal guidance, or both to be considered a drone in the vernacular sense, though this semantic distinction is blurry. Other machines may instead be classified as vehicles (i.e. trains) or industrial machinery (i.e. automatic looms) instead of drones. For example, a stage automaton capable of moving across a stage under programmed instructions or at the direction of its builder might be called a drone, but a stationary one probably wouldn't. Similarly, remote-controlled gun turrets are sometimes considered drones if they are man-portable, but not if mounted to the hull of a vehicle.
Mechanics & Inner Workings
Before the advent of radio communication, machinery could only be controlled by direct human interaction, cam systems, control wires, and (rarely) by the incorporation of trained animals. Indeed, early versions of the "Sweetheart" Utility Drone actually contained a cage for a small mouse or bird who would be trained to tug at tiny switches at the directions of the drone's owner. As dieseltech evolved, programming gaskets became smaller and smaller, and batteries gained greater endurance, these primitive methods of control were phased out in favor of simple spark radio recievers. Reductions in the size and power requirements of radio equipment further advanced the art and science of drone control. Drone operators are often forced to lug about heavy backpacks full of batteries and radio equipment to maintain control over their drones on the go, but both of these burdenes can be reduced by mounting the equipment on a utility skeleton or suit of auto-armor.
As of the year 10,000 AR, wheeled and aerostatic drones are finding increasing use in utility, scouting, and combat roles. Still, drones remain uncommon, with most of them found in the hands of specialists, wealthy hobbyists, and tinkerers.