ROBERT F. ROYCE
A Brief Bio

Optics has been an obsession with me since I was 13, when a diagram of a telescope in a science book caught my attention. Like so many back then I bought a mirror making kit and a book and went to work. After some frustrations I was able to produce a six inch reflecting telescope the next year (1962) and won First Prize at the science fair. A judge at the science fair took an interest in me and offered to drive me to the local astronomy club every month where I got to know some exceptional people, many of whom I still see. I was off and running. After high school I secured a position at Itek Laboratories and found my way into the Large Optics Department where I made flats and paraboloids and worked on surfaces up to 60 inches.

After military discharge I continued in the optics and emerging laser industries working as an optical technician in early laser construction and holography experiments. The company I was with dissolved in 1970 and I began college part time at Central Connecticut State College while working at another experimental laser development firm I had been invited to join. They asked me work part time while I was attending Central Connecticut State College to develop experimental optical fabrication techniques for new optical media. The work was fascinating and included making and setting-up optical test apparatus as well as developing new and better fabrication techniques for making pure copper mirrors and gallium arsinide transmission windows for early infrared lasers. But the fun didn't last. In the mid 70s recession, they folded - back to school. The little burst of science funding of the 60s and the rise of start-up companies was over.

After college in 1975 I left the optical technical industry. Science was down and in the heady late 70s and 80s the lure of business was the rage and seemed exciting. I spent 22 years as a commercial real estate appraiser and analyst, eventually operating my own company. But I never forgot telescopes. Telescopes and optics still entered my thoughts. In the late 80s I was back making and optics again and produced optics for my own use and the use of friends. Now that I had a few bucks I went mad making everything I always wanted to make. And now I had computers! Wonderful calculating machines. One could calculate anything. Optics was more fun than ever. 

When I first got back into telescope making and astronomy I was flatly told that no one made telescopes anymore. Inexpensive, high quality optics were available. I was wasting my time. I was just a bit old fashioned. I looked through some of these telescopes. I said nothing, just smiled and continued building telescopes and making optics. I designed and built Newtonians, compound reflectors and refractors. And people were surprised at the image quality. These telescopes actually showed fine planetary detail and resolved stars to the core in M13. Doubles were beautiful at high magnification. In 1992 I won first prize in optics at Stellafane with an objective for a 6" f/15 refractor.

I reached a personal crossroads in 1994 the real estate industry collapsed and with it the appraisal industry. It would never be the same again. I'll spare you the details, but the new order did not suit my temperment. It just wasn't any fun anymore - no longer exciting. Perhaps this  would be better for the economy but for me the excitement was over. What to do...  Of course, I continued to work as an appraiser until I could re-group. The economy forced it to be a sort of dull part time occupation. I began to think increasingly about optics and what I saw as a need for high quality mirrors for telescopes. Was such a business possible? Just about everyone said no. I wasn't convinced and began thinking and planning. I developed a modest business plan to produce high quality optics for amateur astronomers and consulted with professional optical engineers and designers. I studied and determined the best and most fool-proof testing methods, designed and built a grinding and polishing machine that would operate exactly as I wanted, manufactured the necessary testing components - and went to work to learn how to make a product and see if I could reach a market.

1997 brought with it the Internet and the final component I needed to get started for real. Prior to the Internet a single individual could never create a strong presence and stand against the giants of industry, who could buy full page ads and back covers. But now one could create a web page and reach a large geographic market with equal effectiveness, especially a narrow and specialized market. One person could now reach the world. One of my very first customers was from Spain! Also, the Internet is a severe and, when taken on a large scale, honest critic. Buyers need not rely on puff piece reviews written by magazines who run the manufacturer's full page ads. Discussion groups discuss products from the perspectives of many users. Word gets around. Users have as much of a voice as paid writers - maybe even more. Prospective buyers have more product information than they have ever had if they are willing to read a little. If you don't do good work you don't last on the Internet.

By 1999 I was spreading out beyond astronomy and into optics for commercial users. I expanded my knowledge and skills into interferometry. Learned more theory. Soon I was working for NASA and JPL. Next came more extreme aspherics, convex aspherics, and off-axis aspheric optics. In 2000 I was invited to teach a telescope making course at Yale University's student instrumentation center as a visiting lecturer. This course involves making an entire 6" f/8 Newtonian telescope. I teach the students basic optics, testing and how to make a classic 6" f/8 mirror, by hand, walking around a barrel.

I have great hopes for R F. Royce - POC. The business continues to change and develop and the work becomes more diversified and interesting. I have optics, used by both amateurs and professions in Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Belgium, Poland and UAE, just name a few. It's very inspiring, very exciting and I hope to be doing this for a long time to come.