A restaurant chain in Singapore has demonstrated flying helicopter drones being used to deliver food and drinks from the kitchen, right to customers' tables.
Timbre, a live music bar and restaurant chain that was the first restaurant in Singapore to roll out iPads at every table to speed up ordering, will now deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in order to free up its staff to be able to interact with customers and improve overall service.
"We are experiencing a major manpower constraint because there has been a recent adjustment to foreign worker policies and a lot of restaurants in Singapore are facing staff shortages," Timbre Group's managing director Edward Chia told IBTimes UK.
"We realised that we were spending a lot of time delivering food from the preparation area to the customer service area, and there was a bottle neck which was affecting customer experience.
"If I went into one of my restaurants, I wouldn't be able to find any of my service colleagues, as they would be busy going back and forth from the kitchen and bar to the customer, and then running back to do the same thing again."
Making it safe to have drones in service
So instead, Timbre teamed up with Singapore start-up Infinium Robotics, which offers UAVs and a sophisticated centralised control system known as Intelligent Robotic Swarming (IR-Swarming). The drone is called Infinium-Serve.
Anti-collision algorithms have been programmed into the system to enable operators to control a whole swarm of helicopter drones flying in formation in a constrained environment.
"We want to fly the drones high enough above head room. Eventually when we deploy them permanently, we're going to set flight paths that are not above the customers, but following the natural paths that the waiters take to see to customers," Chia explained.
"It can't just be safe, it has to look safe. So the drones are not going to fly over the customers' heads. We're going to run a couple of focus groups before we launch, using some of our loyal customers, and there will be many more test flights. We don't want to rush it, the R&D has to be done properly."
The idea to keep the drones away from the customers is a good one. In December, TGI Friday's stunt of having flying drones hover over customers in New York while carrying sprigs of mistletoe failed spectacularly, with the drone crashing into a woman's face and cutting open her nose.
In Singapore, at the moment regulations regarding the use of UAVs primarily extend to their use outdoors, and similar to many western countries, how high the helicopter drones can fly.
There are no current restrictions in place governing how drones are used in an indoor environment, and in fact, the government is in favour of ways to boost productivity.
Using drones to offer better service
"It was the government in fact that introduced us to the drone developer," said Chia. "The nice thing is that the Singapore government is really promoting and investing in technologies like this that could lead to productivity gains."
Chia estimates that using flying drones will offer the company a productivity gain of 25%, and stresses that the point is not to save manpower, but rather to improve the manpower it has.
"With the drones handling more manual low-level tasks, we could then give our servers more training. They could be redeployed to become bartenders or aspiring chefs, or they could be trained to upsell to customers and customer retention," he said.
"From a career perspective, our staff can grow personally. The technology is not meant to replace them, but it does give them a chance to move up the value chain in terms of job security."
The helicopter drone waiters will be deployed as a permanent feature at Timbre's restaurants from the fourth quarter of 2015, with a view of rolling the service out to all of its venues.