From an idea that started at a dining room table to a tangible project being discussed in corporate boardrooms, University of Lethbridge music professor Dr. Arlan Schultz is making his research a reality.

Digital Audio Technology

Arlan is the founder of AuraWave Technologies, an advanced digital audio technology platform that seeks to develop world-class and cutting-edge professional audio devices for use both on the stage and in the studio. His journey to creating and commercializing this technology is a first for the Faculty of Fine Arts and brings a unique value proposition to investors.

“While I was creating my own artistic projects, I wanted to find an intuitive way to move sound around in three dimensions without cumbersome hardware or complex interfaces,” Arlan says.

In addition to being a composer in the music department, Arlan works in the field of music technology, researching immersive audio and how it can be incorporated into music composition.

“I was investigating several different kinds of technologies, and there didn't seem to be a dedicated device that would do specifically what I needed. So, I devised my own technology, and to my surprise, it actually worked incredibly well.”

Called the AuraWand, the device is a gestural controller, that moves sound in two or three dimensions with human gestures. It allows the user to conduct with space and leverages a musician’s natural desire to physically engage with sound production.

The AuraWand is meant to make the process of mixing and composing in spatial audio environments technically transparent. The device places the audio engineer’s emphasis more on listening, nuanced trajectory creation and on human interaction with the sonic environment, as opposed to technical engineering. Arlan says there is a desire in the audio technology field for innovative devices that are interactive and focused on facilitating digital audio creation.

“There are so many new devices on the market engaging with immersive audio, either explicitly in multi-channel spaces or in binaural formats. Being able to mix in that environment, to move sound around in three dimensions–up, down, and closer/further from you–is very different than mixing in a stereo format. Our device allows individuals to seamlessly interact with spatial audio and it puts the focus back on listening and physically engaging with the art of immersive sound design. This next generation device is a welcome innovation which removes the additional technical manipulations of more cumbersome technologies.”

Commercializing Fine Arts Research

With the opportunity to test this technology at several significant locations, including the three-dimensional sound, 64-speaker Multi Media Room (MMR) at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) at McGill University, Arlan eventually reached a point where he could start working with advanced professional engineers to bring his work to life.

AuraWand Gen 2.0 set up at the 64 channel MMR Space in CIRMMT at McGill University.

The path to commercialization was not all smooth sailing, as Arlan was not initially accepted into a pre-accelerator program. However, he caught the attention of Kelly Micetich, VP Operations of Brass Dome Ventures (BDV), an entrepreneur mentorship group, who asked Arlan to pitch his idea to her personally.

“Brass Dome Ventures spends an enormous amount of time vetting and evaluating promising innovative opportunities based upon an extensive list of selection criteria,” says Kelly. “Never has the University of Lethbridge seen a venture spun out of the Faculty of Fine Arts before so it’s not surprising that our Brass Dome Team did not initially select Arlan’s venture for Innovation Masterminds Edmonton (imYEG) after his first pitch.”

“However, there was something about Arlan and his idea that caught my attention as being unique and potentially very promising, so I followed up personally for a second look. After doing so, I was sold, as was our entire BDV team! Not only has Arlan successfully graduated from imYEG he has received both funding and business support through Brass Fund One!”   

After a successful pitch to Brass Dome, Arlan was invited to join the group as part of the Innovation Masterminds pre-accelerator mentorship program. The first-of-its-kind program in Alberta proved transformative, and Arlan was able to make industry connections, forge invaluable partnerships and learn the ropes of tech entrepreneurship from some of the most successful technology entrepreneurs in the province.

“I was so fortunate to be matched with the most incredible mentors! These are amazing people who have accomplished some extraordinary things, and to whom I would never have been able to get access outside this program. I would meet regularly with the entire mentorship team and give updates on my progress. They were always excited about the work and provided introductions to some of the largest developers in the audio industry.”

Gaining Funding and Investors

In early 2023, Brass Dome Ventures created Brass Fund One, a fund to support technology prospects of exceptional promise graduating from their mentorship program, Arlan’s venture was one of two chosen for investment out of many ventures vetted by the fund. Now rapidly moving forward, Arlan has incorporated AuraWave Technologies, and has begun implementing his intellectual property strategy for the AuraWand..

With well over $250,000 in funding from investors and non-dilutive grants, Arlan says this type of technology is now on the radar for some of the largest companies in the world, including Dolby, Apple, Google, Microsoft and audio content creators involved in making or mixing spatial audio in professional and home studios.

The unique technology breaks barriers not only for the business world, but also highlights the value of commercializing research in the fine arts, a groundbreaking venture in ULethbridge’s Faculty of Fine Arts, supported through the institution's Research office. AuraWave’s mandate, beyond the development of its current flagship AuraWand technology, is to bring digital audio research from the most innovative labs in the world to an industrial level so it can actually be used by creators and sound artists.

“ULethbridge is home to some of the world’s brightest minds and most accomplished researchers, and their work is innovative and impactful,” says Vice-President (Research), Dr. Dena McMartin. “It’s exciting to help our researchers convert their incredible ideas into commercial products that can really advance the sectors within which they are working. Arlan’s technology has the potential to make a huge difference in how people approach and create with digital audio technology.” 

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

For Arlan, the development process, and the people he has met along the way, has been nothing short of outstanding.

“I have an extraordinary community of people that I work with. I have signed a management services agreement with Brass Dome, which allows me access to all of the business development associates that Brass Dome uses, and I have a really, really great team. They've invested in this company and so they want us to succeed, and they're coming up with corporate strategies to support me as the CEO of the company moving forward.”

Throughout the development process, he also sought help from students, alumni and faculty in the Faculty of Fine Arts, such as New Media student May Germain, who helped to physicalize the AuraWand through refining the initial design and printing 3D mockups, highlighting the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of Arlan’s project.

“May is unbelievable. Her professionalism speaks really well to her training in her program. She is an absolutely fabulous young person to work with and a very talented professional,” Arlan adds.

As for the next steps, Arlan is eager to make AuraWave a platform company that can spur further innovation and partnerships in fine arts and digital audio arts.

“We’re looking to develop interactive digital audio technologies for music composition, audio engineering and live performance that are currently lying dormant on innovators' shelves. Our goal is to determine if they hold commercial value, see whether we can develop them to an industry standard, and gauge whether there is traction to bring them to market,” Arlan says.

“There are so many amazing new technologies out there right now that people would absolutely love to be able to use, but they're just not available because they're sitting on researcher’s shelves. In the long term, becoming a digital audio technology platform company is our goal.”