Aflac’s robot duck for kids facing cancer a big hit at CES 2018

Posted Jan 12, 2018 by Karen Graham
As CES 2018 reaches its final hours today, we can truly say we have seen a real eye-full of gadgets and technologies, some great and some not so - But a robotic duck meant to help children diagnosed with cancer to cope with their disease stole the show.
Called My Special Aflac Duck, the fluffy toy robot is the result of a partnership between insurance company Aflac and robotics toy company Sproutel. The cute little fellow has five touch sensors along its cheeks, under the wings, and back. It also an accessory bag full of RFID tags.
The RFID tags allow children to express how they are feeling after they place one of the emoji discs on the duck's chest. The duck will then respond with either a happy little quack or a groan. Sproutel CEO Aaron Horowitz told the Verge the goal is to help children feel like they’re not alone in the process, with the duck mirroring their own emotions.
The "silly" emoji will, for example, make the duck quack merrily along and dance. It will even try to mimic the child's speech in its quacking.
The duck's accessory bag also has a toy IV set so that kids can "administer" medication to the duck, making the chemotherapy experience less scary. This is supposed to help the child overcome his or her fears, allowing them to become a caretaker and not the patient.
A companion app with AR features is also available that extends this medical play even further, allowing the children to give the duck sponge baths or even an injection. It will respond via its Bluetooth connection.
The duck's fluffy coat is removable so kids can wash and keep the duck clean from hospital germs. My Special Aflac Duck has an IV mode that when activated will cause the duck’s head to make gentle heartbeat-like pulses to calm children down and focus on steady breathing exercises when taking their chemotherapy.
Aaron Horowitz  co-founder and CEO of Sproutel with the My Special Aflac Duck.
Aaron Horowitz, co-founder and CEO of Sproutel with the My Special Aflac Duck.
There is one more thing in the duck's RFID accessory bag - and it's a rocket ship. An app pairs with the duck via Bluetooth to transport the child to a happy place of their choosing, like an amusement park, a rainforest, or a garden, to name just a few of the selections available.
Once the rocket ship is attached to the duck's chest, it will play a soundscape of that scene to virtually “transport” kids out of the hospital room.
The Aflac duck was created for one purpose
The duck isn't technically “smart.” There is no integrated voice assistant, you can’t play games with it, and there’s no camera. You can't even buy it in a store. It is for one purpose only - and that purpose is to give comfort to children diagnosed with cancer at a young age.
The very young often don't have the words, know-how or emotional resilience to communicate what they’re going through, and a non-threatening and fluffy duck in the perfect companion for a child who is frightened by all the hospital noises and procedures.
This writer was surprised to learn that since 1995, Aflac’s support has helped make the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta one of the leading programs in the country. To date, the insurance company and its Aflac Field Force have contributed more than $119 million to the hospital.
Each duck costs approximately $200, but Aflac will donate these robot companions at no cost to any children newly diagnosed with cancer.