The Aflac duck is best known for helping its namesake insurance company hawk supplemental insurance, but recently the squawking waterfowl's found a new purpose: helping kids going through chemotherapy cope with cancer. It's just as heartbreakingly sweet as it sounds, and will hopefully make a big difference in children's lives while they handle a terrifying ordeal.
As reported by Mashable, Aflac has partnered with Sproutel, a company that develops products specifically designed to help children undergoing cancer treatments, to produce My Special Aflac Duck, an animatronic duck with a range of emotional and play capabilities that help entertain and comfort sick kids. And the fluffy little robot does a lot. For one thing, it's built with a little chemotherapy port, so children can administer IV fluids, draw blood, and even put their duck companion through rounds of chemo, making real treatment a little less scary. Children can also feed their ducks, bathe them, dance with them, pet them, tickle them, and let them nuzzle their hands and cheeks when in need of an emotional boost.
The Aflac toy is paired with a mixed reality app, which plays soothing music and nature sounds, and simulates heartbeats and breathing, all of which has a notable calming affect on children who feel frightened by hospitals and treatment. Another cool aspect of the reality app is that it lets children visit the Aflac duck in its special pond, where they can bathe and blow-dry their companion.
The duck also comes with several RFID-tagged emoji cards—happy, silly, scared, nauseous, angry, calm, and sad, which were emotions children told Sproutel they experienced most while undergoing treatment—that kids can tap to the duck's chest and watch it act out, helping them express and share their feelings.
Engadget got a preview of the duck at this year's CES 2018 convention:
Aflac has made fighting pediatric cancer a priority over the years, having financially supported the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, one of the country's primary hospitals for treating childhood cancers, since 1995. Aflac also champions Aflac Duckprints, which raises awareness and donations to pediatric cancer-fighting organizations, and funds the Aflac Parents House in Japan, which provides housing for patients and their parents while undergoing treatment.
Aflac also manufactures a Aflac Holiday Duck, which is sold at Macy's every year. Proceeds from that duck go toward the Aflac Foundation, which helps to fight childhood cancer. (The Aflac Holiday Duck is, sadly, not a robot, but it's still very cute.)
Meanwhile, the robot duck is reminiscent of PARO, an adorable robotic seal that functions as a companion medical device for people suffering from Alzheimers or dementia. Like the Aflac duck, PARO can snuggle, purr, wiggle, chirp, blink, feed, dance, nuzzle, and otherwise interact with its human companion, which helps many elderly people cope with loneliness and other side effects of aging. PARO was notably featured on a first-season episode of Master of None, when character Arnold, played by Eric Wareheim, inherits the seal from his grandfather. PARO, like the Aflac duck, is incredibly cute, if perhaps slightly too realistic:
Meanwhile, though the Aflac duck isn't available to the public just yet (the company website says they'll be rolling out as many as 100,000 ducks over the next year and will officially release the toy next winter) Sproutel says they've tested the duck with over 100 children with cancer, finding it does indeed work both as a source of comfort and as a way to mimic and make it through treatment. The best news? Parents won't have to fork over hundreds of dollars to gift their children with the duck, as Aflac says sick children ages three and up will be able to obtain it at no cost through their doctor or hospital.