Cute, fluffy, and a great sense of humor - what more could you possibly want from a robot companion? Well, My Special Aflac duck is all of those things and more, and to top it off, the little feathered playmate is providing some much needed comfort to children diagnosed in cancer in US hospitals.
Debuted at CES 2018 (opens in new tab) in January, the robotic duck is designed to be both educational and therapeutic, with features that can specifically help children with cancer. Any long term illness can be incredibly stressful, but the intrusive and harrowing nature of cancer treatment puts these children at a particular risk for long term stress and mood disorders.
One of the reasons that children find it particularly difficult is because they can sometimes struggle to communicate their feelings, and may feel as though they are going through it alone.
There once was a helpful duckling
To help kids with communication, the duck comes with RFID (radio-frequency identification) enabled emoji cards on its chest, which allows it to mirror the emotions of the child. All the patient has to do is tap the emoji and the duck will respond - for example, if they touch the ‘silly’ emjoi, the duck will quack and dance along with music.
Soothing sounds like rainfall can be played, and the duck can also coach children through breathing exercises, potentially helping to calm children during procedures. With a vibrational motor, children can also feel the duck’s ‘heartbeat’ and ‘breathing’ when they hold it close.
Perhaps most important, it the ability for children to mimic the treatments they are undergoing using the robot - it contains a port that kids can use to pretend they are administering chemotherapy, and using the accompanying app, the duck can be fed, given medicine, and even bathed.
So far, My Special Aflac duck is only available in two hospitals, but Aflac plan to roll it out across the US this year, with the cutesy robot to be provided to newly diagnosed children aged 3-13 years old if all goes well.
It’s a challenging goal, but certainly a worthy one, and if you think the My Special Aflac duck is too adorable to pass up, you can buy a plushie non-robotic version from Aflac directly.