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Hotspots brings you the Mintel Trends team’s top observations on product and service launches from around the world. From a self-driving golf ball that can’t miss the hole to Facebook’s first virtual-reality universe, find out the most innovative global initiatives happening this month.

UK – Tube Powered Energy

The London Underground’s Northern Line will heat as many as 1,350 homes in London by the end of 2019. A ventilation shaft used to expel waste heat in the abandoned City Road tube station has served as the heat network source. Offices and leisure centres in the neighbourhood have also been heated to make the area more self-sufficient in energy, and reduce both carbon emissions and heating bills. Passengers on the tube arel benefitting too as this development is cooling down the underground.

The focus on sustainability is increasing as more information is available on the impact that human behaviour has on the planet. We’re seeing more focus placed on renewable energy sourcing and a circular economy to help reverse these effects. In order to address the energy demands of growing populations in an environmentally-friendly manner, more sustainable sources of energy are required. As a result, solar, wind, water and other alternative-energy sources are being developed.

Helen Fricker, EMEA Trends Manager

Japan – Hole in One

In a bid to demonstrate its latest self-driving technology, Nissan has released a system that configures golf balls to automatically calculate a route and locate the hole. Through an embedded camera, the system is able to recognise the location of the ball and successfully guide it into the hole via built-in motors and wireless data transmissions.

Autonomous, self-driving technology has become one of the most trending topics within the automotive industry. Several cities have already seen test pilots for driverless cars, with different companies employing Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology to connect vehicles with mobile devices, or renewable solar energy to power cars. But are everyday consumers ready to accept this technology? Indeed, with autonomy comes the question of liability and ethical concerns of AI-operated vehicles. Thus, the key to gaining larger support is to give consumers opportunities to familiarise themselves with driverless technology within a framework they can comprehend – like golf.

Joyce Lam – Trends Analyst, Asia Pacific

US – Facebook’s New Horizon

Facebook has announced a new virtual reality ‘sandbox universe’ for users to create their own worlds, play games, and socialise. Launching in early 2020 in closed beta, Horizon will allow users to design their own avatars and consume media with friends, such as watching a movie or play VR multiplayer games. In-game ‘Horizon Locals’ serve as customer service assistants and safe community enforcers. Users can also mute, block, and report other players.

Horizon is intended to work out some existing pain points that Facebook has, including how to adequately engage younger audiences, and how to get Oculus (Facebook’s VR headsets) to really take off. It’s uncertain how closely Horizon will or will not integrate with Facebook, but the majority of users will already have a Facebook account, and so will their friends, making it much easier to create connections. Horizon seems to be social and exploratory-focused, aligning with Facebook’s value proposition and not undermining its expertise. This is a great example of what we mean when we say that gaming holds the future for community building.

Alex Milinazzo – Trends Analyst, North America

Chile – Sustainable Trip

LATAM Airlines has launched “Recycle your Trip” – a CSR program that seeks to recycling aluminum, glass, and plastic packaging used during its flights. While the programme will be first deployed in Chilean domestic flights, it will later be extended across the company’s Latin American routes. Flight attendants will be in charge of picking up and separating passengers’ garbage. After landing, this will be taken to recycling centers where LATAM will handle the repurposing process.

The transport sector is being shaken up by the environmental crisis. Some people are choosing less detrimental means of transportation and others are giving up on engine vehicles altogether. Transport companies can take inspiration from LATAM’s proposal; offsetting CO2 emissions by recycling waste can be attractive to eco-conscious consumers. Although interesting and innovative enough for now, in a not-so-distant future, recycling won’t be enough. Brands should invest in researching alternative energy sources. Being emissions-neutral should be every business’ next goal.

Graciana Méndez – Trends Analyst, Latin America

TikTok teachings

Viral video sharing app TikTok has launched EduTok, a new programme in India designed to teach users English by watching short, free and entertaining videos from minor celebrities. The turn towards educational content marks a significant departure from its entertainment-driven, binge-worthy roots. In addition to English lessons, EduTok features fitness and motivational videos as well as basic maths and science clips.

The TikTok format is built around short attention spans, and so influencers have found a new way to engage with users by creating content that helps them to learn a new skill. It’s no longer enough to finish learning once you leave school or university. With the pace of change in technology and new types of jobs emerging, it’s increasingly necessary to consider education as a lifelong pursuit in order to not only keep up, but to stay ahead. As India becomes a global marketplace, English will become a necessary skill in order to compete in the workforce.

Elysha Young, Trends Manager, APAC