Everything Kids

A Smart Robotic Duck Helps Children During Cancer Treatments

The familiar duck is developed for the Aflac Childhood Cancer campaign and recognizes that children need more than medicine to cope with the disease.

My Special Aflac Duck with patient Courtesy of Aflac and Sproutel

Aflac's signature duck has helped the company become a leader in voluntary insurance sales. Now, the Aflac duck is expanding its role to become the face of the company’s more humble endeavors: In partnership with Sproutel (a small research and development workshop focused on making health care playful), the duck comes to life to provide companionship and relief for children undergoing cancer treatments.

Sproutel turned the image of the duck into a social robot called My Special Aflac Duck. Each duck has naturalistic movements and high-tech features that allow children to mirror their care routines through medical play, feeding, and bathing via augmented reality. This allows them to communicate their thoughts and feelings to their family and doctors and helps them to feel less alone during chemotherapy. Aflac plans to provide each child diagnosed with cancer a duck to call their own, free of charge, starting the end of this year. 

My Special Aflac Duck Courtesy of Aflac and Sproutel 

“For 22 years, Aflac, our employees and our independent sales agents have demonstrated a commitment to help families facing childhood cancer, including contributing more than $120 million to this cause,” Aflac Chairman and CEO Dan Amos said. “We are taking this commitment to a new level, lending our iconic Aflac Duck to this mission in an innovative way like we have never done before. Our goal is to put a My Special Aflac Duck in the hands of the nearly 16,000 children in the U.S. who are newly diagnosed with cancers each year, free of charge, so that no child ever has to face cancer alone.”

My Special Aflac Duck in Hospital Courtesy of Aflac and Sproutel

In an effort to provide the My Special Aflac Duck to children with cancer nationwide, Aflac and Sproutel will begin delivering the smart companion to children at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for further testing.

My Special Aflac Robot Courtesy of Aflac and Sproutel

“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,” said Aaron J. Horowitz, CEO and co-founder of Sproutel. “We want to empower children by giving them a friend who can help them express their emotions."

Aaron Horowitz, Co-Founder and CEO of Sproutel, designed My Special Aflac Duck Courtesy of Aflac and Sproutel 

We got the opportunity to meet with Horowitz to further discuss how My Special Aflac Duck could change the way childhood cancer treatments are conducted.

The duck is comforting children when they need it most. “Whenever we go into a child's room and bring out the duck a huge smile leaps across their faces. They love being able to change the duck's feelings and will often use this when responding to questions from child life specialists who ask them about their experience with different procedures. It's also great to see kids use features like the calm card to take deep breaths with their duck before scary procedures like a port access.”

My Special Aflac Robot Emoji Cards Courtesy of Aflac and Sproutel 

Those working on the project are deeply invested. “It's been incredible to meet so many inspiring kiddos and have the opportunity to brighten their days. Every time we visit the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, we meet kids, hear their stories, and become personally invested in their treatment. Since we've been to the center over six times, we've continued to meet some of the same families and build relationships with them. When we work late nights bringing the duck to life, these kids are what keep us going. It's also been so uplifting that several of the children who we've met during our development process have since finished treatments and gone into remission!”

For a large corporation, Aflac is all about authenticity. “Childhood cancer is a cause that is deeply ingrained into the culture of Aflac, their employees, and salesforce. When you talk with people who work at Aflac they are all incredibly motivated by the cause of childhood cancer. I can honestly say that they are the most humble and authentic company we have ever worked with.”

With its removable plush skin that allows for easy washing, and vibrational speaker that produces a calming heartbeat and breathing vibrations, the My Special Aflac Duck is convenient and most importantly therapeutic to children faced with the frightening reality of battling cancer.