From animation films to energy efficiency in thermal planning - How computer graphics and simulation improve the world
Andreas Walch's enthusiasm for animation films and computer games led him to studying computer graphics at the TU Wien. Now, as a researcher in the GeoSMAQ Group at VRVis, he develops simulation solutions for lighting and thermal planning - an important contribution to greater sustainability and energy efficiency, especially in times of climate change.
Fascinated by computer games and animated films from an early age, studying computer science was a logical consequence for Andreas Walch. He studied computer graphics (visual computing) at the TU Wien with a special interest in imaging geometry, as he wanted to look "behind the scenes" of animations. Through an internship at VRVis' long-time corporate partner, the Austrian lighting technology company Zumtobel, Andreas Walch came to VRVis, where he joined the HILITE project and concentrated on light distribution curves.
On the way to applied top-level research
Once a toe was dipped into the water, Andreas Walch gradually dove more and more into research and expanded his involvement at VRVis.
He also wrote his diploma thesis at the Viennese visual computing research facility: training the problem solvers of tomorrow is one of the central tasks of COMET centers like VRVis. His master's thesis on "Lens Flares" resulted in the first scientific publication, which he presented at the CGI 2018 conference in Indonesia - an essential step for a young researcher. In 2019, a major VIS publication followed at the IEEE TVCG in Vancouver, which Andreas Walch first authored. In LightGuider: Guiding Interactive Lighting Design using Suggestions, Provenance, and Quality Visualization, he introduced a novel method of interactive, suggestion-based lighting design.
What Walch values most about the scientific community is the collaborative and social aspect, meaning both the intensive exchange with like-minded scientists as well as the ping-pong of ideas. After all, new results and solutions almost always build on existing knowledge and experience; top-level research doesn't happen alone in a quiet room - it needs to be shared.
BIM: Where visualization research and construction meet
In some cases, doing research is an abstract task and the use cases are very specific - not so in the case of the work of Andreas Walch, who is primarily concerned with buildings and their optimal planning.
Here, his focus lies on building information modeling (BIM). For some years now, BIM has become a buzzword for the digitalized future of the construction industry. But what exactly is BIM? BIM is geometry plus the information that this geometry is supposed to represent - a kind of key data description or meta-information that contributes important additional information about an object or building component: How high is the table, what material is it made of, what is its load-bearing capacity? With BIM planning methods, buildings are planned virtually and digitally from the very start. This way, a digital twin is created ahead of the real building, in which all kinds of details can be played through and coordinated with each other.
Visual Computing for sustainable building and planning
At the moment, Andreas Walch is collaborating with VRVis partner InPlan Ingenieure to develop a digital tool that links building physics and engineering for an easier parallel planning of heating, cooling, shading, insulation, and air exchange between neighboring or above-lying rooms, as well as energy efficiency and comfort. In practice, the tool makes it possible to simulate the heating and cooling concept for a single-family house in advance, based on real data and geometries, in order to fine tune the design. The goal is to ensure that the house is sufficiently cooled on the warmest day and heated on the coldest day. For this, calculations must be made in advance as to where radiators are necessary, what the walls or the exterior insulation of the facade are like, or even how the shadow of a neighboring house plays into the temperature regulation. With the new software tool, engineers can now obtain the best results on all questions of thermal insulation and heat calculation with just a few clicks, instead of the complicated and time-consuming model calculations that have been the norm up to now.
Data + know-how = greater possibilities
The breakthrough in the project of Andreas Walch and InPlan is the connection of a digital heat calculation tool with BIM. The additional information about every wall, window, and building material provides important data for the exact planning of heat and heating requirements.
These days, energy efficiency and low heating costs are not only an essential cost factor, but also contribute to greater sustainability. The use cases are not only limited to residential buildings; laboratories, factories, warehouses, schools and public buildings also need to be planned in an energy-efficient way.
For Andreas Walch, this is also what he particularly appreciates about his work in applied research. It is about real challenges for which he, as a computer scientist using visual computing technology, develops concrete solutions together with industry partners and colleagues from his research team.