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Global food ordering app Foodpanda has tested delivering meals in Singapore via drones, or unmanned aircrafts, marking an escalation in the gravity-defying battle among service providers to snag customers.
The online marketplace, backed by Germany's Rocket Internet, started testing drone deliveries a few months ago and is hoping for a Singapore-wide roll-out in the coming years if trials go well, Emma Heap, Foodpanda Singapore's managing director told CNBC.
"We're constantly looking at the most convenient and fastest experience for customers ordering food online. With our riders navigating traffic, there's a limit as to how fast that can be."
"With drones, we're aiming for a delivery time under 30 minutes," she continued, adding that automation has always been part of the firm's long-term plan.
Foodpanda recently unveiled a number of improvements to its business, such as deliveries on average of 30 minutes from 60-70 minutes previously.
CEO Ralf Wenzel first revealed the firm was conducting tests in an interview with the South China Morning Post this week.
'Drone fever' has increasingly hit the island-nation, with Singpost, the nation's national postage company, and the National University of Singapore (NUS) both recently announcing they were experimenting with unmanned aircrafts for deliveries.
Last year, local eatery Timbre announced it intends to launch "flying waiters," i.e. autonomous server-drones, developed by Infinium Robotics.
But Singapore's skyline, consisting of towering residential and commercial units, could be problematic for Foodpanda.
"Delivering to landed properties is less complex than condominium units, the challenge is ensuring drones find the right flat in a high-rise apartment block," Heap said.
So far, all the research and development has been done in-house and once the firm has fully assessed feasibility, the next step is to approach local regulators for approval, she explained.
Ultimately, Foodpanda hopes the drones will bolster revenues, which could potentially give the firm an edge over rivals.
Foodpanda has been a leading delivery app in Singapore since launching four years ago but it's seeing growing competition from new players, such as U.K. start-up Deliveroo.
"As our deliveries get faster, we notice customers increase their order frequency to multiple orders per week. We hope that by using drones to reduce delivery time, we will further grow our business," Heap said.
Deliveroo told CNBC that it had no plans for testing drone deliveries as of yet, but said that it would closely monitor industry trends.
"We are aspiring to be the market leaders in the food tech industry and if drone delivery is what our customers want and need in the imminent future, we will definitely provide a solution to cater towards this need provided that we iron out the legalities/ licensing of the delivery mode in Singapore."
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