At CES it's impossible not to see a robot. There are , and even one that is a . But there is one that stands above the rest, or rather under the rest -- about knee height. It's a social robot duck designed to help children facing cancer. It's called My Special Aflac Duck.
Aflac is widely known for its zany commercials especially those with a duck that quacks the company's name. The insurance company also has a long history of supporting families facing childhood cancer and have spent over $120 million toward the cause.
Aflac approached the health and research company Sproutel which made Jerry The Bear -- a comfort companion robot for kids with type-1 diabetes. The two companies sought to design a robotic comfort toy to help kids being treated for cancer.
Sproutel spent a year exploring the journey that children, families and medical professionals take as kids face cancer and chemotherapy. Those studies and insights informed both the hardware and behavior design of My Special Aflac Duck. It's part toy, part robot and part medical device.
It has sensors that react to touch, a microphone and light sensor that adapt to different environments and adjust the duck's behavior. When you hold the duck, it is incredibly life-like with natural movements. It dances, nuzzles, and even has breath and heartbeat. When you tickle its sides it quacks happily and waggles its head. Oh, and it is also incredibly cuddly.
The adorable duck gives children control during a time when they seemingly have none. They become the duck's caretaker and can feed and bathe the duck as well as have it mirror their health care routines and even receive chemotherapy.
On the chest of the duck is a glowing E.T.-like light where kids can place one of several RFID-enabled "feeler cards" that have different emojis on them. Kids decide how the duck is feeling which is usually a reflection of how they feel. When a sad card is touched to the duck's chest, the duck droops its head and quacks sadly. A happy card makes the duck quack cheerfully and dance.
The same chest sensor has a chemotherapy PICC line attachment which lets kids witness their friend go through the same treatment as them.
Each duck costs approximately $200 (around £150, AU$255), but Aflac will donate these robot companions at no cost to any children newly diagnosed with cancer.
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