At this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) convention in Las Vegas, one robot readies to quack its way into the hearts of young cancer patients throughout the country — My Special Aflac duck.
Cuddly, cute, and crammed with sensors that allow it to interact with people, this duck is the brainchild of insurance company Aflac and R&D workshop Sproutel. It’s meant to help children diagnosed with cancer come to grips with their treatment, which is often confusing, scary, and involves a lot of unpleasant procedures.
As such, My Special Aflac isn’t meant to be just a robot: it’s meant to be a companion that allows these children an outlet. Kids diagnosed with cancer at a young age often lack the know-how or emotional resilience to communicate what they’re going through — and the duck’s developers hope this fuzzy friend will help.
Physical interaction will help the children build a connection to the toy. Scratch it under the chin, and this duck will thank you with a quack — while lifting its head for more. A spot under its wing will send the duckbot shaking and laughing when tickled.
A range of RFID-powered emoji cards will allow users to channel their own emotions into the duck. Tap a frowny face onto its chest-sensor and the toy will slouch overcome with sadness, as it releases a whimper-quack. A silly emoji will, in turn, make it quack merrily along and dance. It’ll even try to mimic your speech pattern in its quacking.
There’s also a toy catheter among the RFID toys to let children pretend they’re giving the duck the same chemotherapy they’re undergoing. Such medical play should help them to better cope with their treatment by familiarizing the process and giving them a companion so they’re not going through it alone. A companion app with AR features extends this medical play even further, allowing the children to give the duck sponge baths or injections. It then responds, with help from the built-in Bluetooth connection.
And when the going gets tough, the duckbot will be there to comfort the children. Its companion app lets the patients select through soothing soundbites (such as a forest stream or a choir of croaking frogs) which the duck can play back to them. My Special Aflac can also walk children through breathing exercises to help calm them down.
The Duck’s motors allow for a range of relatively life-like movements modeled on real ducks. Its speaker also doubles as a vibrational motor, so it can simulate a heartbeat when children hold it for comfort.
So far, Aflac and Sproutel have tested their creation with 100 different children. The end goal, however, is to get a My Special Duck by the sides of each one of the nearly 16,000 US children diagnosed with cancer each year.