A little technology turns the automobile into a karaoke parlor

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TOKYO — Turn on the overhead monitor, not a smartphone. Blast music through a car’s speakers, not earphones. Make a car into a karaoke “box,” not a tedium generator.

This is what a new system from Alpine Electronics does.

The biggest challenge that the Japanese company’s engineers faced was getting the tire and road noise from intruding on low notes sung through the karaoke system. In the end, the developers succeeded in raising the audio quality to levels similar to that in karaoke boxes.

These boxes — soundproof studios, really — are uniquely Asian entertainment refuges where friends go to sing, drink and laugh together.

Alpine calls its system Space Creator. It works with the company’s car navigation systems and rear-seat monitors.

The karaoke system has a camera-and-speaker device that goes next to the rear-seat monitor. A Bluetooth microphone is also included.

With a special app, a smartphone can download karaoke music and lyrics.

The music is played over the car’s speakers; the accompanying lyrics crawl across the monitor.

The camera captures images of whoever is singing in the back seat and displays the video on the car navigation system’s screen.

Alpine previously released a sort of quiz show simulator for kids that makes use of the car’s DVD player, a remote control and the rear-seat monitor.

Alpine’s domestic sales subsidiary, Alpine Electronics Marketing, came up with the idea for Space Creator after surveying families with small children.

A number of respondents said time on the road can be drudgery.

An average long-haul road trip in Japan lasts around 90 minutes — plenty of time for kids to grow bored and turn to their smartphones or handheld game consoles.

As a result, “family members are emotionally separated from one another during the ride,” said Mutsumi Minaki of Alpine Electronics Marketing.  

Many of the survey’s respondents cited karaoke as something they would like to do while passing time in the car.

The fact that car interiors are reasonably soundproof also swayed Alpine.

Space Creator is priced at 46,000 yen ($418) before tax. Since its launch in August, sales have been meeting projections.

Alpine controls 90% of the domestic market for ceiling-attached rear-seat monitors. The company hopes Space Creator puts it even further ahead.

Meanwhile, autonomous cars are around the corner, promising to give even the driver more free time during a trip.

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