RIT’s first Ph.D. recipient follows trail to invention
Jan. 19, 2009
by Kathy Lindsley
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In 1993, Bob Loce received the first doctoral degree awarded by RIT, thereby becoming the first person in the world to earn a Ph.D. in imaging science.
By then, he already held more than 15 patents.
Today, the Xerox principal scientist has more than 100 U.S. patents to his credit, reaching that milestone before reaching his 50th birthday last year. He hasn’t stopped inventing: Another 40 potential patents are in the pipeline.
Loce talks about his work as if nothing could be more fun that developing a “Method of Selective Edge Softening and Rendering for the Suppression of Halo,” the subject of his 100th patent.
“At Xerox, you’re encouraged to invent,” he says. “If you write proposals that seem promising, you get to work on your own ideas.”
Loce has been particularly productive. Fewer than 20 Xerox scientists have as many patents, and of those, “I’m on the young end,” he says.
“If you’re going to invent, you have to be comfortable presenting your ideas. You have to be open to criticism. I think that’s an advantage I had,” he says. “I was never afraid to get criticized.”
Loce grew up in Rochester and joined Xerox as a lab technician in 1981 after receiving an associate’s degree in optical engineering technology from Monroe Community College.
“It was a great job,” he says. “I was working with Xerox scientists, Corning scientists. It was wonderful.”
While working full-time at Xerox, he earned his B.S. in 1985 in Photographic Science from RIT’s College of Continuing Education. Meanwhile, he was already writing patent proposals, and his first patent was issued in 1987. Loce completed an M.S. degree in Optical Engineering from the University of Rochester, then returned to RIT for the Ph.D. program—RIT’s first—all while on the job at Xerox.
“RIT had the right mix of theory, concepts and broad subjects as well as specific applications for me,” he says. He was able to immediately apply his academic work to projects at Xerox, including his Ph.D. thesis research. The thesis ultimately became a book, Enhancement and Restoration of Digital Documents: Statistical Design of Nonlinear Algorithms (SPIE Press, 1997).
By the time Loce was working on the Ph.D., it had become a bit easier to juggle work, school and family life: Xerox allowed him two days a week to devote to the doctoral program. The investment paid off well for the company.
“Among Bob’s many contributions are inventions that provided a foundation for Xerox’s transition from light lens technology to products based on laser imaging, inventions that made highlight color printing possible, and more recently, inventions covering image processing technology used in the iGen3 Digital Production Press and the Xerox Nuvera digital printers,” says Sophie Vandebroek, chief technology officer and president of the Xerox Innovation Group. “In addition to his own inventions, he has mentored many other researchers, helping to sustain our culture of innovation in the Xerox labs.”
More recently, Loce has been working on development of image processing methods for color electronic printing. He has publications and many patents in the areas of halftoning, digital image rendering, optics, imaging systems, and digital image enhancement.
A few years ago, Loce and associates developed a multiplexed imaging process he has publicized as “switch-a-view.” The process allows multiple color images to be printed on top of each other. Different images show up when viewed under different colors of light.
“This was one of the more fun things we’ve done,” he says. But its unlikely that it will become part of a Xerox product, he says. At some point, Xerox could license the technology to another company. That potential source of revenue makes it worthwhile to pursue almost any good idea.
Even ideas that fail are valuable. “You don’t expand the boundaries of your technology by always working on a sure thing. You have to advocate for ideas that are risky but could have a significant pay off, and you have to be comfortable with a few failures. Unless you are failing 10 to 20 percent of the time, you are probably being too conservative in generating ideas and inventing new technologies,” Loce says.
Loce frequently works with the company’s intellectual property experts. In 2002, he passed the U.S. patent bar exam, making him a registered patent agent.
When he’s not pursuing scientific discovery, Loce likes to take on outdoor challenges. He has climed some of the highest mountains in North America. For instance, to celebrate completion of his Ph.D. in 1993, he climbed Popocatepetl, an 18,000-foot volcano in Mexico. In the past few years, he has been spending a great deal of his vacation time hiking and camping in the Adirondacks with his sons, ages 10 and 13. He recently spent a week of very challenging backcountry hiking in the Wrangell Mountains in Alaska.
As a kid, he rode horses on the site of today’s RIT campus—land that was then owned by his grandparents, Dominic and Francis Bianchi.
“When I was growing up, I wanted to be a farmer or scientist,” he recalls. “I was of the generation that was inspired by the Apollo astronauts.”
He has enjoyed his career choice and believes that Rochester is an ideal place for a technologist or scientist.
“Rochester really is a center of invention. Forbes magazine ranked Rochester first in innovation with the highest number of patents issued per worker. Invention is part of the Rochester identity and we need to let the world know about it. We inventors and city leaders shouldn’t rest until we hear Silicon Valley say they are the Rochester of California.”