AI robots are transforming parenting in China

RoBoHon, a robot powered by AI system customized for children, has been used in a children's hospital in Harbin for young people with autism.

Beijing (CNN)At kindergarten, three-year-old Seven Kong has his schoolmates to play with, but at home his best friend is a kidney-shaped, lime-coloured android named BeanQ.

The two spend hours together, with Seven peppering the robot with a continuous stream of questions.
"What's up BeanQ? Have you eaten? I wanna watch cartoons!"
    The green android responds with similarly simple words and phrases, alongside an array of different emoji facial expressions displayed on a large screen, which serves as its face.
      Recommended to the family by a friend, the android is intended to be an early educator, sharing some of the parental burden.
      "When we get really busy, BeanQ can be there keeping him entertained," said Seven's mother Liu Qian, 33, who is a work-at-home mom living in Beijing.
      Despite occasional glitches in voice recognition, Liu said the machine doesn't have any problems interacting with the active three-year-old.
        Three-year-old Seven Kong plays with the android, named BeanQ.
        Driven by a cluster of leading AI companies and using ad campaigns that target tech-savvy parents, early education products have taken a futuristic turn in China, where the popularity of such devices has boomed.
        A search on Tmall (China's equivalent to Amazon) with "education robot" gives 65 pages of products.
        Parents say the benefits of AI gadgets extend beyond the realm of education. BeanQ, for example, also features a "remote babysitting" mode, under which it can serve as a moveable nanny, automatically taking snaps of children and uploading them online for parents to see.
        Yuan Wen, a 32-year-old mom, said that she uses this function a lot to capture her son's pivotal moments as he grows up as well as to communicate with him while away.
        "With BeanQ, I can video chat with my son when I need to work late," she said.
        But some experts have questioned the value of the AI education devices, dismissing them as little more than a "low-end smart phone" for overworked parents.
        Others have raised darker concerns around privacy and child safety, worried that parents are putting unsecured visual and location data about the children online.

        Childcare for the masses

        With a price tag of just $300, BeanQ has quietly made its way into millions of ordinary middle class households across China.
        China moves to end two-child limit, finishing decades of family planning