CES 2018: My Special Aflac Duck Takes Aflac’s Heart to Kids With Cancer


My Special Aflac Duck

Aflac is known for its chatty mascot, the talking duck, but there’s one issue it isn’t ducking—children’s cancer, which it has tackled for nearly 20 years by donating millions of dollars for research and treatment.

Its mission is “very simple: help eradicate childhood cancer. Aflac has passionately supported the research and treatment for childhood cancer for nearly 20 years by donating more than $118+ million.” (Its website says it has actually passed $120 million.)

My Special Aflac Duck children's cancerThe Aflac Duck travels across the country visiting children’s cancer hospitals and communities impacted by childhood cancer. At each stop, he awards his friends for supporting children with cancer.

While it’s not as technologically advanced as Sony’s rebooted Aibo technodog, My Special Aflac Duck™ uses state-of-the-art technology to do what it sets out to do—help comfort childhood cancer patients while they go through treatment.

With four patents pending, the award-winning My Special Aflac Duck helps kids:

Play: My Special Aflac Duck gives kids with cancer the chance to find joy through play. From feeding and bathing the duck to dancing with it and hearing its heartbeat, this interactive companion helps kids find a distraction from their diagnosis.

Engage: My Special Aflac Duck is a companion that helps distract kids coping with cancer. The duck plays soothing sounds, calming heartbeats and takes deep breaths.

Connect: My Special Aflac Duck helps kids connect through medical play. Interactive features let kids feed, bathe and treat their duck just like they are being treated.

The high-tech plush companion is at CES as part of Aflac’s public affairs and cause marketing. The “toy” is being made available fre of charge to kids diagnosed with cancer, and not available to the public.

Its first recipients are the young patients at its Atlanta-based cancer treatment center, and it aims to distribute the duck to thousands of families this year alone.

My Special Aflac Duck children's cancer

A partnership with robotics toy company Sproutel, the duck has five touch sensors in its cheeks, on its back and under the wings.

A snugglebot of sorts with comforting quacks, as The Verge notes “It also comes with an accessory bag full of RFID tags. Kids can tap any one of the emoji discs to the duck’s chest to express how they’re feeling that day, and the duck will emulate it with a happy chirp or painful groan.”

More from The Verge’s terrific story by reporter Natt Garun:

“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 accessory bag also has an IV set for kids to simulate administering medication to the duck to help them feel less scared about chemotherapy.

This helps reverse the child’s role from a patient to a caretaker, giving them control of their mood and experience. The duck’s fur shell also comes off so kids can wash and keep the duck clean from hospital germs and bacteria. When My Special Aflac Duck is in IV mode, the duck’s head will begin to make gentle heartbeat-like pulses to calm children down and focus on steady breathing exercises.

The last RFID accessory is a rocket ship. The duck pairs with an app via Bluetooth to let kids pick their happy place — an amusement park, a rainforest, a garden, to name a few — and once the rocket is tapped to the duck, it will play a soundscape of that scene to virtually “transport” kids out of the hospital room. Our demo duck had a rainforest scene set up, and it sounded like a peaceful noise machine designed to help people relax and sleep.

Aflac says it reached out to Sproutel to create the duck after seeing the company’s first product, Jerry the Bear. The toy bear was designed to help children with Type 1 diabetes learn how to check and monitor their blood sugar and know when it’s time for a shot of insulin. Sproutel even got to show off the bear to President Obama in 2015 when the White House held its first and only demo day.

What I appreciate most about the Aflac robot duck is its minimalism, at least by CES standards. By marketing definition, the duck isn’t technically “smart.” There’s no integrated voice assistant, you can’t play games with it, there’s no camera — but all of that actually make the duck feel smarter than other gadgets with way too many features. The duck does just enough to comfort children during a difficult time.”

Find out more on Sproutel in founder Horowitz’s TED Talk: