Meet the researchers: Valens Frangez
What is your role in NCCR Digital Fabrication?
What is your background?
I studied Geodetic Engineering (spatial data collection and analysis) at the University of Ljubljana and then decided to continue with a Master degree in Geomatics at ETH Zürich, where I specialised in Engineering Geodesy and Photogrammetry. I have always loved being challenged intellectually and enjoy solution-oriented thinking, so an engineering field as a career path was a natural choice.
I finished my MSc studies with a thesis focused on dimensional performance assessment of the Robotic Fabrication Lab (RFL) by using highly precise geodetic equipment. After getting a taste of the field of digital fabrication, I decided I wanted to continue with a PhD, somehow involved in the field of robotically assisted construction. I got lucky and was able to pursue my further studies as a part of the NCCR Digital Fabrication family.
Tell us a little bit about your PhD work, what is the aim of your PhD?
The goal of my thesis is to develop a measurement system and a data processing scheme for 3D shape assessment during digital fabrication of structures It is important to monitor the behaviour of these structures and make sure that the fabrication process is as effective as possible, when complemented by the geometric data. Particularly, I am involved in a project of robotic concrete spraying, where we aim at automatisation of the spraying process, and my part is integrating the geometric acquisition, processing, and feedback system. A set of depth cameras with other auxiliary sensors will be used to acquire geometric data throughout the spraying process, allowing this information to be fed back to the fabrication control to adapt the process accordingly. Challenges such as multi-sensor system design and integration, quasi-real time data acquisition and processing including machine learning approaches will have to be addressed.
What attracted you to this project?
From the beginning it was clear that it will be a highly interesting and challenging project that will require a close collaboration of everyone involved. Practical solutions to existing challenges will have to be addressed to move forward and this is something that definitely excites me. The project is also a learning process, teaching me something new every day, for instance how to make beautiful renderings of the fabrication setup or how to establish a communication flow with the robotic control. Knowing you are a part of the development of tools and technologies of the future is quite exciting as well. The potential of the project is high, but you never know what the outcome might be.
What makes it extra special is the interdisciplinarity of the NCCR environment. I enjoy working with people with different career backgrounds very much and the way they challenge me has a positive impact on my work. Within these projects, different perspectives on challenges that need to be solved and the clashes of opinions usually result in surprising but efficient solutions.
As the University has been closed for the past two months, how hard have you found it to work remotely? Have you been able to take any equipment home and continue experiments?
Without a doubt the past few months have been challenging in all aspects possible. However, I must say I coped well with the situation so far and have a very productive time period behind me. I managed to focus on my work from home, which mainly comprised programming and writing. I have also borrowed some equipment and sensors from the ETH to conduct some experiments, which would usually be done in the lab. The home-made experiments required quite some creativity, by using things found at home to build the improvised measurement setups. It was a fun experience to see what you can do by yourself and how the concepts develop from scratch. Now, after ETH is slowly opening up for experimental work, it was also easier to start, as the first exploratory steps were already done at home and only certain experiments had to be repeated under controlled conditions in the lab to get the final results.
What advice would you have for someone who was thinking of going into research or engineering as a career?
If you are fascinated by technology and you enjoy challenging but practical team work, then engineering is something for you. It is a field of endless possibilities where tools, skills, and knowledge acquired during university time can be applied to a multitude of exciting projects.
I am, of course, particularly thrilled by the field of geomatic engineering, which, despite being quite specific, is found in a wide variety of other fields, from architecture, civil engineering, to computer vision, satellite missions, and even the movie industry! The sky is the limit, and let me give you an insider hint: usually we get to be part of the coolest projects! ;)
What do you do to take your mind off work?
I do not think twice when a travelling opportunity arises and when the adventure calls. I very much enjoy travelling, exploring new cultures, trying out local cuisines, and meeting people. My recent favourites are Portugal, where I tried surfing for the very first time and Vietnam, where I solo-traveled for about a month. I am also fascinated by languages, so there is always something in the pipeline. Currently, I am brushing up my Spanish and German, which got neglected for far too long.
Concert venues are definitely a place I like to visit quite often as well. Whenever there is a band or an artist that I love, you will find me first row, singing my heart out to the lyrics!
Also, trying to stay active and do sports is important to me – I enjoy playing tennis with friends, swimming, or hiking in the mountains. It is an easy way to de-stress!
What is most enjoyable about your job?
People, definitely. I cannot imagine working on a project by myself without daily interactions with others. There is nothing better than to look back at the studies or project work that you have done and think of the memories made with your friends and colleagues. This aspect shapes the whole experience, makes it worthwhile, and is definitely something that pushes me.
I also enjoy the dynamics of my work, which is a mixture of hands-on field work, as well as office work focused on programming and data analysis. It really never gets boring!
And least enjoyable?
I find this question fairly hard and after thinking about it for a while, there is a thing that makes me uncomfortable. It is questioning your work and whether things you do make sense. Since the whole experience of a PhD is quite personal, when something does not work out or you find yourself in a tricky situation, you experience it on a different level. Besides, I am a harsh critic of myself. I think this is natural, but one can easily get caught up in this thinking. Luckily, the rewarding results of my work as well as the amazing people I meet at the ETH and elsewhere keep me positively excited.