Robert Hilbert

In Memoriam: Robert Hilbert

December 11, 2008

In Memoriam: Robert Hilbert, 1941-2008


Robert Hilbert, President and Chief Executive Officer of Optical Research Associates (ORA®) and an OSA member since 1960, died on December 11, 2008, in Pasadena, California, USA. He was 67.

Hilbert, who had been ORA’s President and CEO since 2000, was a dynamic and respected leader who was actively involved in all aspects of ORA business, from shaping important CODE V® and LightTools® software features to supporting key optical design and engineering initiatives.

“Bob was an important member of our team for more than 30 years, and was instrumental in the growth that ORA has enjoyed both in our optical design software and engineering services offerings,” said Thomas Harris, founder and former CEO of ORA. “Most importantly, Bob understood the core values that have always driven ORA, and emphasized customer success as our highest goal. Bob cared deeply about the staff at ORA and the feeling was reciprocated. He will be greatly missed.”

Hilbert had served ORA since 1975, initially as Vice President leading the Optical Engineering Services business. In 1991, he was named the company’s President and Chief Operating Officer.

Hilbert started his career in optics at an early age, receiving the Future Scientist of America Award for a 360-degree camera design in 1957, at age 16. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Optics from the University of Rochester in 1962 and 1964.

From 1963-1975, Hilbert worked for Itek Corporation, which pioneered satellite-borne, photo optical reconnaissance systems (for example, the now declassified CORONA Project) and high-altitude strategic reconnaissance systems. At Itek, he held management positions including Director of Optics, Manager of the Optical Engineering Department, Chief Optical Engineer, and Supervisor of Optical Design. As Director of Optics, he was responsible for all engineering and manufacturing necessary to design and produce mounted optics including optical design, opto-mechanical design, optical fabrication, assembly, and test.

Hilbert’s career was dedicated to the development of new optical products from conception through early production. He was actively involved in developing the Parallel Processing feature for CODE V, the Illumination and Optimization modules for LightTools, the evolution of computer platforms for ORA software products, and in directing development of CODE V technologies in graphics, MTF tolerancing, and holographic/diffractive capabilities. He contributed to the development of new concepts and designs for optical systems including visible, IR and UV sensors, the optical design of a broad variety of fabricated optics such as a wide angle projection lens for 35 mm slides, a star tracker objective, a Raman Spectrograph relay lens, an f/0.62 low light level catadioptric TV lens, the objective for the A. F. KA-80 panoramic camera (also used on Apollo), a zoom system for visual use, an 80° field cos3 falloff objective, a one- meter aperture wide field telescope, a finite multi-conjugate relay lens for rectifying CORONA panoramic photography, and a zoom lens for S.L.R. use.

His technical background also included developing Qualification and Acceptance Test Procedures as well as performing component and system level tests, e.g., interferometric tests and data reduction of massive optics, and radiometric tests of electro-optical systems. Early in his career as a precision optician, Hilbert fabricated high-quality spherical and aspheric surfaces through figuring of 2-inch to 20-inch aperture optics to fractional wave tolerances.

Hilbert served as a member of the OSA Engineering Council and the Joseph Fraunhofer Award Committee. He also served as chair of the Optical Design Technical Group. He was elected a SPIE Fellow in 1992, received an American Optical Company Fellowship from the University of Rochester in 1962, and held seven U.S. patents in the field of optics.

He is survived by his wife, Angela; two sons, David and Daniel; daughter-in-law, Sara Armstrong; two grandsons, Isaac and Jacob; a sister, Joan; and many other family members and friends who will cherish his memory. A memorial service was held on December 15, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. His family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Orange County United Way, 18012 Mitchell Avenue, South, Irvine, CA, 92614, USA. Online donations can be made at


This obituary was contributed by Laura Mickens, ORA Manager, Technical and Marketing Communications.