Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Meet Valkyrie

I am very excited to be able to share with you all the robot that I have spent the last 9 months working on.  It's been so hard to keep this a secret, but I have been very fortunate to work with an amazing team of people on this awesome project.

Meet Valkyrie. 

She is a highly dexterous bipedal walking robot designed by an awesome team of engineers at the Johnson Space Center to compete in the Darpa Robotics Challenge (DRC).

The DRC is a robotics competition bringing together the best of the best from around the world.  The goal of this challenge is to build a dexterous robot that can perform a variety of tasks in hazardous environments and perform disaster response operations, much like those seen at the Fukushima reactor site.

The project was kicked off in October 2012 with several tracks.  Our team has chosen to compete in Track A, which means we were responsible for building our own hardware and software from the ground up.  There are five other teams in the Track A category, one of which is RoboSimian, another NASA team from JPL in California.

Teams not wanting to design their own hardware, had the choice of participating in the Virtual Robotics Challenge.  These teams had to design software to run a simulated Atlas robot through a variety of tasks demonstrating robotic control, locomotion, and manipulation.  Those teams ranked highest were awarded an Atlas robot by Boston Dynamics which they will use to compete with along side the Track A teams this December in Florida.  (Side note: Our partner on the X1 Exoskeleton project, IHMC, placed first in the virtual challenge!)

This years trials will run the robots through a series of disaster recovery tasks, one at a time.  Some of the tasks include walking over rough terrain, clearing debris, climbing a ladder, driving a cart, walking up to and through a doorway, actuating power tools, and manipulating hoses and valves, to name a few.

To read more about the Robotics Challenge, click HERE.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


A few months back we were staying at our friends house in Austin, when he introduced us to the world of smoking.

No, not that type of smoking.  Texas smoking.  As in meat.  Delicious delicious meat.

He had just purchased a Trager smoker, technically a pellet grill, and was eager to make some ribs for us.  Using the 321 method (explained below) he proceeded to make the most amazing ribs that I've ever had at someones house.  And that includes my dad's ribs, which are pretty freaken amazing.

I was hooked.

Fast forward 3 weeks and I finally convince Jeremy that we NEEDED one of these for ourselves.

We head down to Costco and 2 trips later (that's a whole other story) we arrive home with 1 smoker and 3 bags of pellets: hickory, apple, mesquite.

First meal: Ribs.

For these we followed the Trager cookbook recipe and employed the 3-2-1 method.

Smoke for 3 hours, wrap and "cook" at 225 for 2 hours, unwrap and continue to cook at 225 for 1 more hour to let the meat tighten.

They were fall off the bone tender.

Here you can see them nicely arranged on the smoker.

We did notice the skin was a little tough, but I think we could avoid that by using a mop sauce as described below.

For the rub we used only a dry rub consisting of Rib Tickler and Joe's Stuff.

Meal 2: Brisket

Let me start by saying, we live in TX and in Texas there is no such thing as a small brisket.  Good luck finding anything under 10 lbs.  For our first brisket experience we chose a 12 lb prime brisket from Costco.  

It fit on the smoker quite nicely don't you think.

Again we used a dry rub consisting of Rib Tickler, Joe's Stuff, and Saltlick dry rub.

We also made a mop sauce of 2 cups of Saint Arnold's Octoberfest, 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce, and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar.

We smoked the brisket for 4 hours, uncovered, coating with the mop sauce (in a spray bottle) every hour.

We then cooked it at 225 for 6 more hours, mopping every 1.5 hours, until the internal temp read about 195 deg.

Finally we wrapped it in foil and old towels and let it rest in a cooler for 30 minutes.

It was awesome.  I'm not a huge brisket fan, mostly because I find it to be too dry, but this was super moist and delicious.  Two thumbs up.

In addition to brisket and ribs, we've also done chicken (cooked at 350) and burgers.  The burgers were okay, but the chicken was very juicy and had a perfectly crisp skin.

I'm so glad we made the investment, and I can't wait to see what we decide to smoke next week!