Weidner deliberately brings together diverse competencies in his team, from such fields as engineering, kinesiology, sociology and law. Why such a broad mixture? “The human being is at the heart of what we do. And this means, automatically, that we have to enquire about what a person does, protect their data, and understand how the body works,” explains Weidner. “It is most effective when each of us respects the other disciplines more than our own,” he says, quoting the patron of his research group, the cybernetics expert Prof. Klaus Henning of RWTH Aachen University.
The pronounced investigative spirit of Weidner’s youthful team can clearly be seen in the laboratory in Jenfeld. Everyone is free to make things, to tinker, to put things together and take them apart again, to try things out and above all to test them on their own bodies. Tobias Meyer, one of Weidner’s young colleagues, encased simple paper fins with freezer bag film. When the air is taken out of these flexible packets, they become rigid and can be used to stabilise regions of the body, e.g. the back. Meyer won the Hamburg Aviation Young Talent Prize for this concept.
Supporting the next generation is enormously important for the professor. He has been involved as a volunteer in a cycling club since his teenage years. During his mechanical engineering studies at the Hamburg University of Technology, he became interested in working in a university environment himself and sharing his knowledge. Weidner began his academic career as a research assistant at HSU on the other side of the Elbe. At the former barracks, he quickly found himself coordinating activities at Boys’ and Girls’ Day. Building on this, he worked together with the “Faszination Technik Klub” to offer a university for youth, the “TeenLab”. The programme is still running, providing scientific support to youth from 14 years of age as they develop their own research questions, construct models and program computers. “No question, exoskeletons are far from uncool when it comes to starting out in engineering studies,” says Weidner with conviction. Since the birth of the lab, several participants have won prizes for their ideas in the “Jugend Forscht” programme. One group even succeeded on an international level. Weidner is committed to winning these dedicated pupils over for the Helmut Schmidt University in the long term, and two girls and one boy from the TeenLab ended up with a scholarship to study at HSU and are now part of the smartASSIST team. Weidner himself won the 2017 Nachwuchswissenschaftler des Jahres (“Young Scientist of the Year”) award from the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers. He was also listed by the magazine “Capital” as one of its “40 Talents Under 40”. What does he still want to achieve before he turns 40? Off the cuff, he had no answer to that beyond a laughing “keep going”.
These days, he also flies at least once a week. He has taken on the professorship for Production Technology in Innsbruck and his currently establishing the role. This Austrian professorship will also be focused on the workplace of the future. And most recently he was approached by TTS Tooltechnic Systems of southern Germany, wanting to work together with him to turn research ideas into reality. The spin-off company, exoIQ GmbH, has established its headquarters in the Wilhelmsburg borough in Hamburg.
With all these projects, is there still time for leisure? “Somehow, it seems to work out,” says Weidner. He made his hobby into his career, he adds with a grin before rushing off to his next appointment.