A Smart Lamp That Watches Kids When They Study Is a Hit in China.
What looks like a children’s desk lamp, behaves like Amazon.com’s Alexa and comes with two surveillance cameras? The latest educational fad in China.
“Smart homework lamps” have skyrocketed in popularity since ByteDance Inc., the creator of short video app TikTok, first introduced the $120 lamps in October 2020. Chinese parents snapped up 10000 units within the first month. The product’s popularity spurred ByteDance to ramp up marketing and its rivals to roll out their own versions.
The lamps come equipped with two built-in cameras—one facing the child and another offering a bird’s-eye view from above—letting parents remotely monitor their children when they study. There is a smartphone-sized screen attached to each lamp, which applies artificial intelligence to offer guidance on math problems and difficult words. And parents can hire a human proctor to digitally monitor their children as they study.
In addition to the basic version of the lamp, a $170 upgraded model sends alerts and photos to parents when their children slouch. That version of the lamp sold out on China’s largest e-commerce platforms earlier this month.
Ni Ying, a 36-year-old in Shanghai who bought the basic version of the lamp in March, paid an extra $350 for three teachers to remotely watch her daughter do homework each afternoon for two hours over the course of three months.
“It’s much more efficient: My daughter gets her work done and if she needs help, the teachers are there to assist,” said Ms. Ni, who said it was liberating not to have to constantly keep an eye on her 10-year-old daughter. “I’ve felt less agitated about her homework and the lamp has improved our relationship.”
Smart lamps and remote tutoring service “is the first time we’re seeing a mass market, education-related surveillance product making it into the homes and bedrooms of Chinese children,” said Ted Chen, a Beijing-based entrepreneur in education technology.
On Chinese social media, where the device is touted as a relief for busy working parents, reviews are overwhelmingly positive—so much so that it is hard to distinguish between paid promoters and real customers.
The company has said it developed its smart lamp over months of consultation with about 2,000 Chinese parents and children.
In March, 2021 some features on ByteDance’s lamp sparked a furor on Chinese social media. One user said the app allowed children to post videos of themselves on the internet. Another user complained that the lamp offered user profiles and videos of other children, often of the opposite gender, as online study buddies.
ByteDance said at the time that any uploading of videos required parental consent and would be limited to videos of homework.