Business (Managing Higher Ed)

A Bright Partnership

Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology

PHOTO © VECTORFUSIONART

The University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), two private research institutions a few miles apart in western New York State, have each established themselves as world-class universities where that spirit of collaboration, innovation and discovery is alive and well. In particular, we both have highly specialized research and academic programs in imaging, optics and design that are best in class or among the best in class in the nation.

We share a commitment to growing the innovation economy in our community, which also has a storied history of innovation and influence in those same fields. Imagine, then, the potential that our partnering could have in areas such as technology incubation, growth of existing optics, imaging and audio companies, and attracting new industry.

We are fortunate to find ourselves at a moment when we can combine many of our institutional strengths in research, couple them with our area’s history of entrepreneurship and embark on efforts to spur innovation within and between our institutions, throughout our region and in areas that will have applications in our digitally based world.

Examples of Collaboration

One recent example is the University of Rochester and RIT as key research partners in AIM Photonics, the Rochester-based national headquarters for the United States Institute for Manufacturing and Integrated Photonics. Joining the nation’s leading companies, universities and federal research institutions, we have already made several significant contributions to AIM Photonics, harnessing light to realize the scalable manufacturing of integrated photonic circuits. The Institute is leveraging the history of optics and imaging in Rochester and its skilled workforce to lead to a future in which photonic technologies are as ubiquitous as electronics are today.

Now, through another strategic partnership, both the University of Rochester and RIT are collaborating in light and sound technologies and applications, and specifically those that serve as the backbone of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) development.

From September 12 to 14, we will co-host the inaugural celebration of Light and Sound Interactive (LSI), a first of its kind interactive conference focused on light- and sound-based technologies and their 21st-century applications to some of the fastest growing markets in the world, including VR/AR, video games, media, film and music. (For more information on LSI, visit www.lightandsound.org.)

Both universities are developing advanced technologies in this area that are changing the ways people learn, work, play and interact with the real world and communicate with each other. The VR/AR field alone is projected to grow from $6 billion in 2016 to more than $100 billion in 2020. Companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon are investing heavily in light- and sound-based technologies that underlie these developments. This space is among the fastest growing in the world.

Partnering With the Community

The light and sound research and academic strengths at the University of Rochester and RIT are closely linked to the region’s industrial heritage with Kodak, Bausch + Lomb and Xerox. Rochester is recognized as the “World’s Image Center.” The University of Rochester has a historic preeminence in optics, photonics and imaging, as well as in music and clinical care. RIT is a leader in combining technology with the arts and design in areas such as film and animation, and games and interactive media.

RIT is one of the world leaders in the development and study of imaging science: the generation, analysis and visualization of images. A longtime research and education partner of some of the world’s foremost imaging companies, RIT also created one of the first research centers dedicated to the field: The Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science. RIT also developed the nation’s first doctoral program in imaging science in 1990. RIT has advanced light- and sound-based technologies and their applications in VR/AR, in addition to games, cinema and music. RIT’s MAGIC Spell Studios, scheduled to open its new 43,000-square-foot facility in fall 2018, is a first-of-its-kind effort in higher education that will link RIT’s internationally ranked academic programs with hightech facilities needed to commercialize computer gaming, film and animation and digital media projects.

The University of Rochester is home to the Institute of Optics, the oldest school of optics in the nation, which has awarded nearly half of all optics degrees in the U.S. The Institute of Optics produces cutting-edge research in the properties and advanced applications of light. The University of Rochester has in recent years been creating VR/AR experiences spanning the arts, games, social interactions and live performances, as well as healthcare applications that detect and treat illnesses, improve quality of life, and help people with visual and auditory impairments. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center are currently exploring how virtual reality enables enhanced physical exams of patients and more effective treatments for a range of conditions, including visual correction, restoration, rehabilitation and assistance.

Looking Forward

Together, the focus for the University of Rochester and RIT is on developing a VR/AR hub in Rochester. The groundwork is established for being an international leader in the sophisticated light and sound technologies absolutely essential to virtual experience technology. Today, the Rochester region has more optics manufacturers than any other area in the U.S., providing optical components to a wide range of light-based technologies, including to all of the major VR/AR makers in the U.S. All told, between startups and small, medium and large companies, Rochester has more than 120 firms operating in the optics, photonics and imaging industries.

And the greatest asset Rochester has for the optics and VR/AR industry is its highly educated and experienced workforce. These companies that choose to locate in Rochester want to be close to world-class universities, suppliers and a labor force to support them.

Through LSI and other future partnerships, we plan to stay at the forefront of developing some of the most exciting technologies and startups in one the world’s fastest-growing industries, as well as educating the future world-class leaders who will continue to shape creativity and innovation for years to come. When our collective institutions collaborate, Rochester wins. But more than that, when communities come together and pull together resources and help support an industry, our country wins.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Authors

David Munson is president of Rochester Institute of Technology (www.rit.edu).

Joel Seligman is president of the University of Rochester (www.rochester.edu).

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