ST Engineering’s DrN-15L drone, which was used on Thursday, is able to lift up to 2 kg, and fly at speeds of up to 15 metres per second, with a delivery radius of up to 5 km. Credit: ST Engineering.

Food delivery by drone took a big step forward this week in Singapore, when Foodpanda used a drone to deliver five packets of ayam penyet, a popular fried chicken dish, from the Marina South Pier to a ship located 3km offshore, Channel News Asia reported.

It was a welcome treat for seafarers aboard a PACC Offshore Services Holding 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 short distances, CNA reported. 

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 means that customers can still expect the familiarity of our riders delivering piping hot meals right to their doorsteps,” the company said.

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, CNA reported. 

“The fundamental desire in doing delivery by drone for us is to increase the choice for customers,” said Foodpanda Singapore managing director Luc Andreani. 

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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, Andreani said customers will not have to contend with “crazy high delivery fees,” CNA reported.

“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. 

ST Engineering’s DrN-15L  drone, which was used on Thursday, is able to lift up to 2 kg, and fly at speeds of up to 15 metres per second, with a delivery radius of up to 5 km, CNA reported. 

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.

While it is unlikely that drones will do deliveries directly to homes, 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.