Putting an end to gawping and blocking

Bachelor's student of mechatronics wins TU ideas competition for students

2024/01/01 by

David Weiß won first place in the TU ideas competition for students with Gaffop, an easy-to-install anti-gaffer wall that protects both emergency services and patients from disruptive onlookers in the event of an accident. A scholarship from the Thomas Weiland Foundation supports him in the realisation of his innovative projects. As co-founder of thinc! Darmstadt, he also shares his knowledge and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship with like-minded students.

David Weiß has been studying mechatronics at TU Darmstadt since the winter semester 2022/23. He was already interested in mechatronic systems during his time at school. The volunteer emergency worker was particularly interested in systems and work equipment that support and improve the work of emergency services. “I was 17 when I had my first assignment as an emergency worker. We set off in the emergency vehicle – we have a large operational area – and ended up in a traffic jam due to roadworks. We heard on the radio that divers were needed. Because the rescue routes were blocked, we couldn't get to the scene of the accident quickly enough,” explains Weiß.

His enthusiasm for the rescue service and his experience as an emergency worker with the DLRG Lampertheim motivated him to take part in “Jugend forscht” for the first time. “After this frightening experience, I began to develop a camera that recognises lane blockages. I was awarded a special prize for my idea at the national 'Jugend forscht 2021' competition.”

His second participation in the national “Jugend forscht” competition followed in 2022. His project idea: Gaffop – a suction cup that adheres to various surfaces, such as asphalt, and can be used to create a new type of anti-gaffer wall.

“Basically, an anti-gawping wall is a privacy screen that prevents people from looking at accident scenes,” explains the 20-year-old. “Gawping is human. I look too. But it's important that people look away again.” Photographing or filming accident scenes and obstructing rescue workers goes too far and can be penalised in Germany. If rubbernecking turns into insulting behaviour or even an assault, this is an additional burden for the emergency services.

Basically, an anti-gawker wall is a privacy screen that prevents people from looking at accident scenes.

The mobile and patented “Emergency Lane Camera” (ELC) is currently on hold, but the young man is continuing to work on Gaffop during his studies at TU Darmstadt. This is also made possible by a scholarship from the Thomas Weiland Foundation. “A start-up is very expensive. Thanks to my participation in the national 'Jugend forscht' competition, I was able to apply for the foundation's scholarship. And as I still live at home in Lampertheim, the money can go towards developing my project.”

The financial support provided by the scholarship is one advantage, another is the support in the form of regular meetings: regular get-togethers, seminars and lectures on various topics. In 2023, the foundation organised a seminar for the scholarship holders under the academic direction of Professor Carolin Bock from the Department of Entrepreneurship.

“At the beginning, there were lectures by professors on the various career paths you can take after graduating. In other words, a career in business or a university career,” says Weiß. “I found that very interesting, and every student should actually attend such an event at the beginning of their degree programme. Then there was the entrepreneurship project. We looked at how to set up a project, we developed a prototype and pitched our ideas. We were supported by Mrs Bock and her department. It was a great seminar and we learnt a lot, even if the topic of entrepreneurship is certainly not for everyone.”

First place in the student category

Weiß also won the TU Ideas Competition with Gaffop. In mid-October, he took first place in the student category. “The privacy screen I developed prevents people from looking or walking towards accident sites. It also reduces traffic jams,” he explains. “My wall has a modular design. The individual modules can be easily connected to each other to create a continuous wall along the entire traffic jam. If drivers don't see an accident, traffic flows more smoothly. Less congestion also means that rescue lanes can be formed better and emergency services can get to accident scenes more easily.”

Weiß enjoys studying mechatronics at TU Darmstadt. “At school, I always said I wanted to drop out of university,” smiles the young man. “Because that would mean my start-up was going well. I now see things differently. Also because I know that an invention can suddenly be worth nothing. I'm learning a lot at the TU, and I also find the general studies programme interesting. I would love to have a look at two or three Master's courses. But that's difficult in terms of time. I'm planning to found a company during my studies and have a few positions at thinc! and the DLRG.”

The student has already succeeded in founding his first company this semester. He is a co-founder of thinc! Darmstadt: a student initiative for entrepreneurship with the aim of promoting innovative thinking and supporting young founders on their way.

Thomas Weiland Foundation at the TU Darmstadt

The Thomas Weiland Foundation has been awarding scholarships for Bachelor's and Master's students since 2014. It supports young academics in STEM subjects, i.e. subjects related to mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology. A monthly amount of 750 euros is granted. Bachelor's students receive funding for six semesters, Master's students for four semesters.

The Thomas Weiland Foundation has supported around 100 scholarship holders to date. Most recently, the foundation awarded around 20 scholarships per year.

Requirements for a scholarship

Outstanding high school graduates enrolled in STEM-related degree programmes at TU Darmstadt are eligible for funding. Furthermore, excellent Bachelor's students who wish to complete a STEM-related Master's degree programme at TU Darmstadt.

Since 2021, the Thomas Weiland Foundation has also been offering a simplified application process for alumni of “Jugend forscht” in cooperation with the Jugend forscht e. V. foundation. “Mr Weiland himself successfully took part in 'Jugend forscht' several times. That's why he wanted to offer his own funding for 'Jugend forscht' alumni,” explains Karl Ulrich Saß, Chairman of the Foundation. Anyone who has successfully taken part in a competition can apply via the simplified procedure.

Funding in detail

Additional support for entrepreneurship

The foundation recently decided to provide further support, namely for entrepreneurship in the STEM field. In cooperation with HIGHEST – the Innovation and Start-up Centre at TU Darmstadt – the foundation provided a special science prize in the TU ideas competition. This honours scientifically original and well-founded ideas in the STEM field that represent a significant innovation and have high application potential. “The basic idea is to motivate scientists to found new companies. Our funding takes place at a time when the scientists themselves may not yet be thinking about commercialising their ideas,” explains Saß, adding: “The idea for the special prize is based on the fact that Professor Weiland initially researched an approach on a scientific basis – namely finite integration theory – and developed a technologically and commercially successful application, the corresponding simulation software, based on this scientific foundation.”

Professor Thomas Weiland was a professor at the TU Darmstadt in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, specialising in the “Theory of Electromagnetic Fields”. In 1988, he received the highest German scientific honour, the Leibniz Prize, for finite integration technology. With CST AG, he founded one of the largest employers in Darmstadt and moulded it into a renowned company in the field of engineering simulation software.

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