Last month, Foodpanda delivered five packets of ayam penyet (smashed chicken rice) from Marina South to a vessel 3km away in under 10 minutes, which might not seem significant until you realise that the vessel was out at sea. The dishes were the test subjects for Foodpanda’s drone delivery test flight, aptly called PandaFly. Foodpanda worked with ST Engineering to carry out this feat.

The Peak speaks with Foodpanda’s managing director Luc Andreani on the potential of drone food deliveries and the future of the industry.

Luc Andreani, Foodpanda's managing director.
Luc Andreani, Foodpanda’s managing director.

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How did the idea for PandaFly start?

Aerial deliveries have always been part of foodpanda’s long term plans. Since 2016, we have been consistently testing and optimizing the technology to ready the drones for a wide-scale rollout.

It’s cliche, but for us, the sky’s literally the limit. Like it or not, technology has created an almost insatiable demand for things to be delivered faster and cheaper. Customers will increasingly come to expect instant gratification, so to be able to fulfil these expectations, we need to start thinking of ways to push the limits of food delivery. A large part of that entails improving the efficiency of the delivery process, and that means exploring other means of delivery – such as drones.

Currently, over 70 per cent of restaurants are located within central Singapore but the majority of residents live outside the city. While islandwide delivery is possible with land transport, the reality is that food cannot be delivered quickly, especially from one end of the island to another, and food quality is therefore compromised by longer delivery times. With PandaFly, we can ensure that the food delivered to customers, no matter where they’re from, is of the highest quality by shortening delivery times.

With drone pilots, won’t that mean that delivery costs will increase?

The drones will be operating on the DroNet platform, which is an autonomous platform that only requires the supervision of a safety operator.

PandaFly is meant to complement our 12,000-strong delivery rider fleet. The intended delivery process is:
1) Restaurants prepare food.
2) Restaurant or rider will collect the food and deliver it to a designated pick up/drop off point and load it onto a drone.
3) Drone takes off to go from designated point A across a pre-planned route to designated point B, where another rider will pick up the order to complete the last mile. That way, customers can still expect the familiarity of our riders delivering their food.

The drones are not meant to replace riders.The primary objective of the drones is to shorten delivery times.

We are also exploring the idea of drones collecting food in bulk, and have them delivered from one district to a designated collection hub. This helps keep delivery costs low as multiple orders can be consolidated and sent at one go. Also, once drones are extensively adopted, we will also be able to ensure delivery costs are friendly to the wallet.

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The Foodpanda rider loads the drone with the ayam penyet dishes.
The Foodpanda rider loads the drone with the ayam penyet dishes.

What do you envision the future of food delivery to be?

We’ve observed a rising demand and frequency for delivery of products in smaller quantities. This trend, or what we term quick commerce (q-commerce) is poised to be the next generation of e-commerce. For businesses operating in the convenience economy, the key to survive is to continue looking for ways to make the delivery process even more efficient. Convenience and speed will be even more imperative for delivery platforms moving forward, and I strongly believe that Foodpanda is in a prime position to continue offering both to our customers.

For a while now, we’ve also seen a trend of decentralisation of workplaces and shopping habits, both accelerated by the pandemic. As working from home becomes a mainstay for the foreseeable future, we are decentralising from the central business district, resulting in increased pockets of activity in suburban neighbourhoods. Our purchasing habits have also become more localised to our neighbourhood shops and malls, driving an upturn in q-commerce as more businesses start offering on-demand delivery. Businesses that are not able to offer this may lose out.

With this in mind, we have tapped on the logistics infrastructure we’ve built through the years to help businesses expand their on-demand services and introduced delivery services with PandaGo, which helps businesses cope with the rising demand for delivery by enabling them to tap into Foodpanda’s community of riders. The service is available to all businesses and has no commission or set up fees, allowing them to better manage their delivery costs by spending only when they need it.

As we continue to expand convenience for our customers, we also need to expand the variety of offerings that we have on our platform. We have listed more top-rated restaurants, including Michelin-starred ones, to cater to affluent customers who want to enjoy fine dining at the comfort of their homes.