In Memoriam - Emeritus Professor Bob Hocken

Friday, June 4, 2021

Dr. Robert (Bob) Hocken, Professor Emeritus of UNC Charlotte’s Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Science Department died on June 2, 2021. Dr. Hocken was an international leader in the field of precision engineering, an award-winning educator, and a much-loved professor and colleague.

One of the founding fathers of engineering and scientific research at UNC Charlotte, Dr. Hocken came to Charlotte in 1988 as the Norvin Kennedy Dickerson Jr. Distinguished Professor of Precision Engineering. He established and led the University’s Center for Precision Metrology until his retirement in May, 2014.

As a researcher, Dr. Hocken is known for transforming metrology in the U.S. and the world. A few of his significant research contributions include the invention of the original tracking interferometer system, commonly known today as a laser tracker, and pioneering work the field of software error correction for coordinate measuring machines and machine tools.

Dr. Hocken’s areas of research expertise included engineering metrology, nanotechnology, electro-optical instrumentation, atomic force microscopy and optical stethoscopy, and dimensional metrology for Computer Aided Manufacturing concentrating on advanced probes, controllers, surface measurement systems. He was the principal investigator for more than $14 million in externally funded projects, and authored more than 80 publications including journal reports, featured articles, and proceedings including invited lectures and presentations.

As a teacher, Dr. Hocken is remembered by his students as an inspiring mentor, who positively impacted the lives and careers of the thousands of undergraduate and graduate students who passed through his classroom. He understood and exemplified the importance of training students to be independent, critical and analytical engineers, with the professional skills needed in the modern world. He supervised more than 33 Ph.D. and master’s student theses, and won numerous teaching awards.

One of Dr. Hocken’s favorite tasks was acting as advisor for Mini-Baja team, which he did for 15 years. The Mini-Baja is a car, completely designed and built by students, that has to run over hills and trails, through mud and across water. The UNC Charlotte team always had an advantage with Dr. Hocken as its advisor, because not only was he an expert in mechanical design, but he also let the team practice in the fields and roads at his farm.

Research Achievements

  • Co-inventor of the laser tracking interferometer extensively used in industry for larger-scale metrology, US Patent 4,714,339, "Three and Five Axis Tracking Systems."
  • Pioneered software error correction of coordinate measuring machines, for which he received the CIRP F.W. Taylor Medal in 1979, the R&D Magazine IR 100 award 1985, and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Frederick W. Taylor Research Medal 1985
  • Design and development of the Multiscale Alignment and Positioning System (MAPS) imprint lithography machine, and the Plasmonic Lithography machine (PLM), in support of the NSF Engineering Research Center SiNAM (Center for Scalable and Integrated Nanomanufacturing). 
  • Design and development of the Sub-Atomic Measuring Machine (SAMM), a magnetically levitated metrology stage (25 mm x 25 mm x 100 micrometers with 8 picometers of resolution). SAMM was a joint project between UNCC and MIT. 
  • Developing techniques for creating nanometer scaled features to be used for nanoscale memory bits.
  • Creating atomic-level scanning tunneling structures with lithographic techniques.
  • Development of instrumentation to measure spindle errors
  • Principal author (along with Tom Charlton) of the first American National Standard for the assessing coordinate measuring machines “ASME B89.1.12 - Methods for the Performance Evaluation of Coordinate Measuring Machines.”
  • Principal author of the American National Standard “ASME B5.54 - Methods for Performance Evaluation of Computer Numerically Controlled Machining Centers.”
  • Co-editor of the second edition of the book “Coordinate Measuring Machines and Systems.”

Professional Achievements

  • Charter member, past president (2004-2005), and winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award (2000) from the American Society for Precision Engineering (ASPE).
  • Past President of the International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP) in 2008-2009. One of only 66 people ever to be awarded the Taylor Medal from CIRP.
  • Charter Fellow, Society for Manufacturing Engineers (SME), 1986.
  • Winning American Society for Mechanical Engineers recognitions including the Ennor medal for contributions to manufacturing, the Dedicated Service Award, the Blackall Award, and a certificate of recognition for ASME Codes and Standards.
  • Being awarded the F.W. Taylor International Research Award from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and being a member of its inaugural class of Fellows.
  • Winning a Silver Medal and a Gold Medal from the Department of Commerce, four IR 100 Awards, a NBS Applied Science Award and a Presidential Executive Award.
  • Chief of the Precision Engineering Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly National Bureau of Standards), at that time the division responsible for the maintenance and dissemination of the unit of length for the United States.
  • Chief, Automated Production Technology Division, Center for Manufacturing Engineering National Bureau of Standards (now National Institute of Standards and Technology), the group responsible for the Automated Manufacturing Research Facility (AMRF) which was tasked with anticipating problems and advancing the state-of-the-art for US manufacturing.

Teaching Awards

  • UNC Charlotte Alcoa Award for Outstanding Faculty at the Graduate Level, 1992.
  • UNC Charlotte First Citizens Scholars Medal, 2000.
  • UNC Charlotte Harshini V. de Silva Graduate Mentoring Award, 2006.


  • BS-NRC Postdoctoral Fellow, 1973-75.
  • Ph.D. Physics, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1973.
  •  M.A. Physics, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1969.
  •  B.A. Math, Oregon State University, 1968, and B.A. Physics, Oregon State University, 1968.

Dr. Hocken’s obituary. A visitation will take place Sunday, June 6 from 1-3 pm at Wilkinson Funeral Home, 100 Branchview Drive NE, Concord, NC. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Hospice of Charlotte.