What is PIONEAR Developing?

PIONEAR aims to develop a novel microphone based on a technique called chromometry, using light instead of electrical signals to detect sound. The microphone that PIONEAR is developing contains an innovative laser that converts sound pressure changes into colour changes, which can be measured with remarkable resolution.


Microphone technologies, while advanced, still face several limitations. Sound quality, a primary concern, is influenced by the microphone’s ability to capture the richness and accuracy of sound, which can be hindered in noisy environments or at extreme frequencies. Sensitivity and noise floor are also crucial; highly sensitive microphones can capture subtle sounds but may introduce unwanted background noise, affecting clarity. The trade-off between size and portability is another significant issue. Smaller, more portable microphones often don’t offer the same quality as larger, professional setups, limiting their application in more demanding environments. Power consumption is another limitation, especially for high-quality microphones that require more power, making them less feasible for portable or remote uses. Finally, cost remains a barrier; higher-quality microphones can be prohibitively expensive, restricting access for amateur users or those with budget constraints. These limitations highlight the challenges in developing microphones that balance quality, portability, and affordability.

PIONEAR Microphone Features

The PIONEAR microphones will have a similar form factor to miniature MEMS microphones while outperforming even much larger diaphragm microphones. They will achieve ruggedness (e.g. being dust and waterproof) comparable to piezo microphones, eliminating today’s trade-off between high performance (capacitive) or ruggedness (piezo). Unlike their capacitive counterpart, PIONEAR microphones do not have two closely spaced plates, and use only a standalone membrane. This avoids squeeze film damping, a major source of noise, and significantly reduces susceptibility to damage from dust and humidity. The increased displacement resolution makes it possible to use small sensing elements (<1 mm2) while obtaining sensitivity that is only achievable in capacitive microphones featuring large diaphragms (~500 mm2) with plate spacing that is too small to achieve a wide dynamic range. 

Beyond Microphones

While the focus of PIONEAR is on creating a novel highly sensitive microphone, the underlying sensing technology could transform many other sensing modalities, such as pressure, ultrasonic, biochemical, gas, and aerosol sensors, as well as accelerometers and gyroscopes. This technology could be particularly impactful in autonomous vehicles and drones for echolocation and navigation. By employing chromometric sensing in other sensors than microphones, PIONEAR could improve these systems’ effectiveness, user experience and safety.