Mobile Tools and a Dr. Evil Wheelchair: What Happened at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013

Remember the last time you went to a fair and got to play with robots and Tesla coils, check out a Dr. Evil wheelchair, watch fire arts, try mobile tools, and meet some of the craftiest inventors on earth?

Unless you were at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013 over the past weekend, the answer’s probably, “no.” But as proud sponsors of Maker Faire Bay Area for the third year running, we were there to be part of the action.

Here’s an inside look at the highlights.

Greathouse Labs and one-of-a-kind machines

For the second year in a row, we invited innovators and makers to enter their custom creations in the Road to Maker Faire Challenge. Competition was fierce — entries ranged from laser kaleidoscopes to robotic sculptures — but one maker won your votes.

Greathouse Labs, helmed by Lance Greathouse, captivated your imagination (and ours) with his Dr. Evil wheelchair, secret Soviet grill, and kinetic sculptures. His work has been showcased at Burning Man, on Robot Wars and BattleBots, and around the country. Now you can see it right here:

Lance Greathouse and his Dr. Evil wheelchair
Lance Greathouse and his Dr. Evil wheelchair
Maker Faire Challenge Winner
The secret Soviet grill and a kinetic sculpture
Greathouse Labs
The Greathouse Labs crew: Lance Greathouse, Bryce Greathouse, Jessica Collins, and Christopher Collins

Esurance at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013

As builders of mobile tools and makers of car insurance, we were there to feature our latest invention: photo claims on Esurance Mobile.*

Esurance and our newest photo claims feature at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013
Esurance and our newest photo claims feature at Maker Faire Bay Area 2013

Our do-anything mobile app makes it easy to manage your policy, file a claim, and find nearby shops and services. Now it can make the claims process easier too. If you get into a minor single-car accident, you can snap pics of the damage with photo claims and we’ll go the limit to deposit the money needed for repairs within a day. That’s it. No more waiting for an appraiser to come to you.

If you have Esurance Mobile on your iPhone®, just make sure it’s up to date to take advantage of this latest feature. (Android™ users, your update will be on its way in a few short months.)

Other Maker Faire highlights

Of course, we weren’t the only innovators at this 2-day festival celebrating all things DIY. Here’s a sampling of what else happened at the greatest show-and-tell on earth:

flower fire art
Fire art
Adam Savage keynote speech
Adam Savage keynote speech
3D printing
3D printing

Upcoming Maker Faire events

Maker Faire has taken off around the globe. If you’re looking to get inspired, click here to find out when an event will be in your area. And make sure to look for Esurance at Maker Faire New York in September!

Related links

See who won the Road to Maker Faire Challenge in 2012
Maker Faire Bay Area 2012 photo recap

*Currently only available on iPhone.

Tornado Season Is Here — Are You Ready?

Updated April 28, 2014

With last night’s deadly tornado in Arkansas, and more predicted throughout the central U.S., tornado season is clearly upon us. Even if you don’t live in “Tornado Alley,” it’s important to know what to do if you’re caught in a twister. Tornadoes can happen any time, in any region of the world, if conditions are right.

What causes tornadoes?

Tornadoes happen when warm, humid air gets trapped beneath a layer of cool, dry air, and winds at ground level move in a different direction than those above. This can cause the rising air to spin like a top, creating a funnel cloud.

Where are tornadoes most likely to occur?

Tornadoes are particularly common in the central U.S., where warm air from the Gulf meets cold air from the Arctic. Although the worst tornadoes tend to happen in the region known as “Tornado Alley” (which extends from the Rockies to the Appalachians and from central Texas to the Canadian prairies), there are many other tornado-prone areas in the U.S. (notably the Mississippi Valley and the lower Tennessee Valley). Peak tornado season is generally springtime, though the frequency tends to shift from south to north in the late spring to midsummer.

What’s the difference between a watch and a warning?

A tornado watch means there are weather conditions in your area that could produce a tornado — you should keep an eye out for updates and be prepared to act. A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted or the Doppler radar indicates a tornado is imminent. You should seek shelter immediately.

What are the signs of a tornado?

A funnel cloud is the most obvious sign, but not all tornadoes have funnels, so look for whirling debris or dust under a bank of thick clouds. If you hear a load roar (similar to a train) that doesn’t fade after a few seconds, head for cover. Heavy rain or hail followed by an abrupt wind shift or sudden stillness can also indicate a tornado — be aware that precipitation or low clouds can hide the funnel from view. More information is available from FEMA here.

What should I do in the event of a tornado?

Form a plan and designate a meeting spot ahead of time. If you are under a tornado warning or notice any signs of a tornado approaching, head for a basement or other underground shelter and get under something sturdy, like a work bench. If that’s not possible, take cover in an interior stairwell, hallway, bathroom or closet on the lowest floor. Do not open the windows (the belief that this will equalize pressure is a myth). Keep away from windows, glass, and shelves where items might fall on you, and cover yourself with a mattress, sleeping bag, or other thick padding.

If you’re outdoors, take shelter in a sturdy building. If you can’t, lie facedown on low ground and cover your head with your hands. Stay away from trees and cars, which could be blown onto you.

What if I’m driving?

A vehicle is not a safe place to be in a tornado — the force of the twister can lift up even a heavy vehicle and toss it. If the tornado is distant but visible and traffic is light, you can try to get out of its path by driving away at a right angle to the funnel. Then, as soon as you can, seek shelter underground (if possible) or in a sturdy building.

If flying debris strikes your vehicle while you’re driving, quickly pull over and park. If you can safely get to an area that’s lower than the road, such as a ditch, leave your car and lie facedown in that spot, protecting your head with your hands. Otherwise, remain in the car with your seat belt on, drop your head below window level, and try to cover yourself with some type of cushion such as a blanket or coat. Do not take shelter under bridges or overpasses — the winds can send debris under the structure or even force your car out and into the storm.

What if my car gets damaged?

If you live in an area prone to tornadoes or other natural disasters, it’s wise to carry both comprehensive coverage and liability coverage on your car insurance policy. Esurance offers car insurance in most states where tornadoes are frequent, including ArkansasOklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Colorado. To determine the right level of coverage for you, use our online Coverage Counselor®.

Related links

How to Disaster-Proof Your Insurance

Know how to prepare for a tornado.

Stay safe when driving in high winds.

Stay safe while driving during floods.

4 Tips for Helping Your Teen Learn to Drive

With graduation season upon us, we started thinking about all the milestones in a young person’s life. And learning to drive is certainly among the biggest.

If you’re a parent, letting your teenager get behind the wheel can be a scary thought. Maybe you’ve seen them put their video game driving skills to the test in Need for Speed and you’ve walked away horrified, wondering, Is that how my kid is going to drive the family car?

So we’re here to help you collect your thoughts and get ready to teach. Now, keys in the ignition … hands at 9 and 3 (it’s actually safer than 10 and 2) … let’s get started.

1. Find a safe place to practice

Assuming your teen has already gotten a drivers permit, the first step in helping them learn to drive is to pick a practice spot. Start off somewhere safe, like an open parking lot or an empty stretch of road with few or no other cars around.

One of the most important things you can do for your beginning driver in these initial stages is to remain calm. I know, I know, easier said than done. But if you can’t keep your cool in a parking lot, you’re going to be a basket case on the highway.

Practice everything you can in this safe zone — changing gears, accelerating, braking, turning, signaling, and parking. If you have the space, set up a mini-circuit with improvised stop signs. Make sure the driver-in-training has a good grasp of where the car is relative to its surroundings and is paying attention.

The more practice your teenager gets when they learn to drive, the safer they’ll be (and the safer you’ll feel) around other cars.

2. Get ready to hit the open road

At some point, you’ll have to let your new driver experience the open road. We’re not talking about the highway (yet!) — just a nice little spin around the block. If you live in a busy area with blind turns and big streets, find a quieter block to drive around.

Then, you can start easing your teen into longer routes and busier areas, as well as more challenging situations, like driving at night and in the rain. Gauge their developing skill level and pick the route accordingly.

Since this is probably the first time they’ll be driving around moving vehicles, traffic signs, and signals, this is where the real test of their abilities will take place. Always have them check the speed limit, keep a safe following distance, use their mirrors, look both ways (twice), and check their own speed.

3. Help them learn to drive on the highway

When you’re confident your kid can drive in traffic, the next step is to tackle the challenges of highway driving.

Take it slow at first. Start with merging into the closest lane and then getting off at the next exit. This is probably going to be the scariest step for both of you, so it’s even more important to keep your cool here.

When they’re ready to change lanes, using the acronym “SMOG” can help them remember the steps they should take: make sure they signal, check their mirrors, and look over their shoulder before they go. (Don’t you love acronyms?)

4. Don’t panic

Teaching your teen to drive is pretty straightforward, really. Just make sure you’re calm, thorough, and above all, safe. Take it slow, don’t have a heart attack, and everything will be fine. They might drive like maniacs on their Xbox, but that doesn’t mean it’ll translate to the road.

Related link

10 tips for teen drivers (and their parents)
Teen driving trends

Change Your Commute and Your Life on Bike to Work Day

It’s National Bike to Work Day

Throughout the world, the bicycle has never really fallen from grace as a “legitimate” form of transit. Because of that, the transportation infrastructures of most countries, particularly in Europe, consider the automobile and the bicycle in relatively equal regards.

In the U.S., however, this has not been the case. So, in 1956, after decades of frustration and limited access to safe cycling, the League of American Bicyclists designated May as National Bike Month, which celebrates National Bike to Work Week, National Bike to Work Day, and National Bike to School Day. This year, Bike to Work Week is May 13-17 and Bike to Work Day is May 17 (today!).

These events each share the same intent: to promote the bicycle as a commuting option.

“The bicycle is a curious vehicle. Its passenger is its engine.”– John Howard, 1985 bicycle land speed record setter

So what are the benefits of cycling?

Some people can’t imagine traveling outside the safety and comfort of their vehicles, especially with something as comparatively difficult and slow as a bicycle. But, take it from a man who’s used a bicycle as his primary (and often only) form of transit for his entire urban life — a bike can actually be a faster means of transit than a car.

In fact, when comparing various ways of commuting within a congested city, the bicycle may actually be the most efficient. The reason? For the most part, you can avoid traffic jams. Riding on the right side of the road allows you to zip past lines of frustrated drivers all the way to the stop sign or traffic light (which you are required by law to observe).

You’re also part pedestrian on a bicycle, which works to your benefit. No, that doesn’t mean you can ride on the sidewalk (it’s illegal in almost every U.S. city). But it does mean that you can dismount and use the crosswalks to make tricky left-hand turns or cross streets with pedestrian signals that aren’t on the same timing schedule as the road signals.

“It never gets easier, you just go faster.” – Greg LeMond, 3-time Tour de France winner

Riding to work might seem challenging at first, but, like anything else, it becomes more natural the more you do it. If you want to try riding to work during this National Bike Month, do the same information-gathering you would for any other new venture.

How to prepare for your ride

If your city doesn’t have a proper bicycle map (showing street grades, bike lanes, and other cycle-friendly information), you can take a drive to work using more residential streets than your typical route, which is likely along fast-moving streets. Once you find the perfect route, you’ve got one piece of the puzzle figured out already!

On the day of your ride, make sure you leave yourself extra time so you don’t feel rushed. The average leisurely, conservative speed of a bicycle is around 10 to 12 mph, so if you know how far you live from work, then you can estimate how much time you’ll need.

Remember to bring a change of clothing. Even if you don’t live in a hilly city like San Francisco or Pittsburgh, you’re going to be expending energy, and that means you could get sweaty. You can also avoid getting grease on your right pant leg by rolling it up for your ride. Once you get to your destination, it’s quick work to change clothes in a bathroom stall, so simply bring your work clothes folded in a backpack.

“The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.” – Susan B. Anthony, Civil rights leader

Just as you should know how to change a tire on your car, you should also know how to change your bike’s inner tubes. The easiest way to learn this is to simply ask your local bike shop to show you. Most shops will take the time to help you learn this valuable piece of knowledge, and many others will offer beginner maintenance classes with even more information. (This is also a good opportunity to have them tune up your bike, especially if you haven’t ridden it since you had a paper route.)

“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race.” – H.G. Wells, Author

At Esurance, we’re committed to environmental responsibility and healthy living, and there are few activities more conducive to those things than cycling. We hope that you’ll give Bike to Work Day or Bike to Work Week a try. Just remember — be patient, be safe, be smart, and you’ll be just fine.

 

Who’s Covered Under My Car Insurance Policy?

Handing your car keys to another driver, even for a quick trip, can be tough. Especially once these numerous (and, frankly, frightening) thoughts start whirling through your head:

Are they going to position my seat all wrong? Are they going to ride the clutch too hard? Are they going to reset my favorite radio station to polka?     

But perhaps the most important question you can ask before lending your car out is: Are they going to be covered by my insurance? If you’re confused about just who does and doesn’t get the benefit of your auto coverage when they take the wheel of your car, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common questions we receive.

To ease to your worries, we’ve consulted with our customer service specialists. Together, we’ll scan the list of people who could conceivably take your wheels for a spin — and let you know when it’s safe, insurance-wise, to give them the keys.    

Does my car insurance policy cover someone else?

Immediate family

People living in the same house typically enjoy the car insurance coverage of whoever’s ride they’re using. In fact, depending on the laws in your state, everyone bunking under the same roof is often required to be on the same policy. Either way, if your son, daughter, or spouse wants to take your vehicle out, they should usually be covered as long as they have a valid drivers license.

Extended family

If your grandpa, aunt, or some other relative has to borrow your car while visiting, they’ll probably be covered by your policy thanks to permissive use. Permissive use means that if you give someone permission to use your ride, they can typically fall under your ride’s auto policy. Just make sure Grandpa Mort has a valid license before he takes off (no matter how much he insists that’s not how it was in “his day”).

If, on the other hand, relatives are living with you or using your car for several weeks, your insurer might want them added to your policy before they drive your car.

Friends

Permissive use also typically covers friends who use your wheels once in a while. If you and some buddies trade shifts on a road trip, for instance, they’ll likely enjoy your coverage options. They may, however, not get the same coverage amounts. Drivers not listed on your policy sometimes face lower liability limits. If your friends have their own car insurance, though, it can help make up any gap in coverage.

Boyfriend or girlfriend

Similar to your extended family, your boyfriend or girlfriend can probably use your car occasionally under permissive use if you live separately. But if you move in together, you might need to be listed on each other’s policies before you can share car insurance.

Understanding permissive use car insurance

Car insurance follows the car. And that simply means your coverage stays with your vehicle no matter who’s driving it (usually), as long as they’re immediate family or have your permission.

If you’re ever in doubt, though, you should always check with your insurer. They’ll go over your policy contract and let you know what will happen if someone else drives your car.

Want to update your policy? Find out how to add a driver to your car insurance.