It may not have the universal gee-whiz effect that comes with a Merge 6DoF Blaster game device, or a Google-assisted, voice-controlled robot named Buddy, or even a Travis the Translator gadget.
But the “My Special Aflac Duck,” unveiled Monday at the 2018 Consumer and Electronics Show in Las Vegas, appears destined to capture the hearts of children suffering from cancer and enduring treatments for their often-lengthy illnesses.
The high-tech “smart” robotic companion, developed by Sproutel — which came up with Jerry the Bear, a diabetes-related companion — is scheduled for delivery early this year to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. It is there where more testing will take place in a real-world treatment environment, with expectations that a nationwide rollout of the special duck will take place about a year from now.
My Special Aflac Duck is aimed at distracting children from their cancer symptoms and comforting them during tough times, such as when they receive transfusions and other painful treatment requiring the poke of needles. A web-based app also allows children to “mirror” their care amid moments with hospital staff that include receiving medication, feeding and bathing. The duck, which can dance and quack, also emulates the moods of patients during difficult therapy sessions.
“On average, childhood cancer treatment lasts more than 1,000 days, and we thought there must be something we can do to help alleviate some of the burden,” Aaron J. Horowitz, co-founder and chief executive officer of Sproutel, said in a statement. “So we designed My Special Aflac Duck to help provide comfort and joy through engaging play. Most importantly, we want to empower children by giving them a friend who can help them express their emotions. We are excited to work with Aflac, whose commitment to children with cancer has been incredibly inspiring.”
The robotic companion has grabbed attention at the 2018 Consumer and Electronics Show, having been recognized as the winner of the Tech for a Better World Innovation Award.
Aflac, the supplemental health and life insurer headquartered in Columbus, long has taken a role in finding a cure and assisting financially with the treatment of youngsters suffering from cancer. More than two decades after adopting the philanthropic cause, the company and its employees and sales agents have raised more than $119 million for childhood cancer.
“For the first time in brand history, Aflac is allowing its beloved icon to come to life through innovative technology focusing on comforting kids, while leading a social movement around childhood cancers,” Kathelen Amos, president of the Aflac Foundation, said in a statement. “We know that cancer is too big for any one company or organization to address alone, so with the introduction of My Special Aflac Duck, we hope the Aflac Duck’s popularity will help inspire more people to get involved and advance this cause.”