Too Good to be True? Trade Show Robots Are Here

Plus: Canadian SMEs feel Obamacare woes too; Business travellers may catch a break on air fare—in this week's Export Wire for Canadian small business

Written by John Lorinc

Beam me to the trade show: For export-minded entrepreneurs who have grown weary of slogging through trade shows held in vast convention centres, Suitable Technologies last week launched a “telepresence” device that can do the hiking for you. The machines, known as Beams, feature teleconferencing screens grafted onto a high-tech cart that users can navigate by remote control, according to this enthusiastic review by Telepresence Options. But don’t call them robots, the company insists.

“Beam founder, Scott Hassan vehemently denies that his product is a robot. While the rest of the mobile remote presence vendors are happily selling robots, and despite the fact that the Beam looks like something out of a Pixar robot movie, the Beam is absolutely not a robot.”

Air travel prices predicted to fall: With the U.S. economy seemingly on the mend, Canadian SMEs with customers and offices south of the border might get a break on air travel in 2014, according to a new survey from American Express., an online business travel news site, reports anticipated declines in short-haul business class and long-haul economy fares, unless the U.S. Airways-American Airlines merger goes through and ends the price wars between the two carriers.

“Overall, North American business travelers can likely expect mixed price changes across travel categories in 2014,” American Express states. “With minor exceptions, North American airfares are expected to decline in 2014 as a result of heightened competition from low cost carriers, challenging unemployment levels and corporate travel policies becoming more stringent in regard to business class travel.”

Obamacare roll-out woes: Some small businesses and manufacturers are opting to avoid the new U.S. health insurance websites out of concern that their American employees may be dragged into the chaos that has consumed those sites since they launched last month, reports the Wall Street Journal. Under the U.S. Affordable Care Act, SMEs—including Canadian-owned businesses with offices or divisions in the States—are no longer required to offer health insurance to employees who buy coverage through the bug-plagued health exchanges. There are also questions about the viability of the group plan designed for smaller firms.

“Small employers also are uncertain if they will be able to purchase less expensive small group plans through the new Small Business Health Options Program, also known as the SHOP Marketplace. These health-insurance exchanges for employers with 50 or fewer employees were supposed to begin accepting online applications Oct. 1. After delays due to a tech problem, the SHOP exchanges are now slated to open by the end of November.”

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