SINGAPORE: Can chickens fly? On Thursday, five packets of ayam penyet did, when food delivery service Foodpanda used a drone to deliver the popular fried chicken dish from the Marina South Pier to a ship located 3km offshore.
It was a welcome treat for seafarers aboard the POSH Bawean, a PACC Offshore Services Holding (POSH) vessel designated to support crew changes for cargo ships calling in Singapore during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This comes after Foodpanda signed an agreement with Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering in March to use DroNet - ST Engineering’s drone network system - to test the delivery of “light food items” over distances of up to 3km.
The collaboration, dubbed PandaFly, aims to eventually see drones picking up and delivering orders to and from designated collection points islandwide, with one of Foodpanda’s 12,000 delivery riders completing the last mile of the delivery.
This is not the first time Foodpanda has experimented with the use of drones for deliveries - the Berlin-based food delivery giant first did so in Singapore in 2015.
Food delivery via drone is taking flight, with companies such as Uber and KFC experimenting with the use of the devices over the past year.
“The fundamental desire in doing delivery by drone for us is to increase the choice for customers,” said Foodpanda Singapore managing director Luc Andreani.
He noted that while delivering food from the city - where many eateries are located - to residents in the heartlands by motorcycle is possible, it would take too long, which would in turn affect the quality of the food.
PandaFly would allow Foodpanda to do islandwide deliveries without sacrificing that, he added.
While the initial technological investment would be pricey, Mr Andreani said customers will not have to contend with “crazy high delivery fees”.
“The idea would be to keep delivery fees stable so customers don't feel any difference,” he said, adding that economies of scale meant that the greater use of drones would eventually translate to lower prices.
He did not specify when drone food deliveries would be made more widely available.
"As with any big disruptive innovation, in the very early days it's more like an investment for us, with the objective of also making it economically viable in the future," said Mr Andreani.
In February, ST Engineering announced it was collaborating with maritime group Wilhelmsen Ships Service on the development and testing of shore-to-ship drone deliveries in Singapore, which would allow the devices to be operated beyond the pilot's visual line of sight.
The company’s DrN-15L drone, which was used on Thursday, is able to lift up to 2kg, and fly at speeds of up to 15 metres per second, with a delivery radius of up to 5km.
Mr Teong Soo Soon, ST Engineering’s UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) business vice president said he expects to eventually see a network of pre-approved flight routes, where drones can be safely used for deliveries.
The use of drones would allow for deliveries to fly directly from one point to another in a straight line, bypassing traffic and other obstacles, allowing for speedier deliveries, he said.
While it is unlikely that drones will do deliveries directly to homes, Mr Teong expects that there will soon be a network of collection points where these drone can take off and land from.
“I think it's a realistic expectation of what might come in the next few years,” he said.
Mr Danny Chong, general manager for POSH’s Centres of Excellence (Innovation), said the usage of drones is an area that the company is “actively studying” as part of its innovation roadmap.
“There is still much work to be done to fully enable shore-to-ship delivery over longer haul distances,” he said.
“POSH will continue to work with suitable partners so as to bring a taste of home to our seafarers onboard in time to come.”