Robotic duck coming to children’s hospitals: The goal is social companionship and emotional health … and marketing

Hospital stays and medical treatments can terrify any child, more so those battling life-threatening diseases such as cancer. Luckily, a new tool has been developed to provide these children with comfort and company. The My Special Aflac Duck is the brainchild of toy manufacturer Sproutel and insurance company Aflac, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.

This cute and cuddly plush, robotic duck — modeled after Aflac’s own iconic mascot — is outfitted with sensors that allow it to interact with patients in a fairly realistic manner. According to, scratching its chin will make it raise its head and quack, while tickling the Duck under its wing will cause it to shake and laugh. In addition, the My Special Aflac Duck comes with radio-frequency identificatio-enabled (RFID) emoji cards that will allow it to reflect patients’ emotions and even copy their speech patterns.

However, what truly makes this toy unique is that child cancer patients can pretend to give it chemotherapy through an attachable tube, injections, and even sponge baths. All of these actions will cause the Duck to respond appropriately, only in quacks. This is to give child patients the opportunity to become acquainted with their treatment, as well as make them feel like they aren’t going through it alone. Moreover, the Duck can perform guided breathing sessions to help children control their breathing. (Related: First robot rollout to ‘assist’ the elderly.)

Aaron Horowitz, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Sproutel, explained to the that the idea behind the My Special Aflac Duck came from Jerry the Bear, Sproutel’s first social robot. This toy was intended to serve as a companion for child patients with type 1 diabetes. Jerry the Bear can be fed, administered insulin, and have his blood sugar monitored by children. “Out of this came the idea of, ‘Why can’t we do it for other types of kids?’,” said Horowitz.

In a separate statement to, Horowitz remarked: “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. We want to empower children by giving them a friend who can help them express their emotions.”

Over 100 children have tested the My Special Aflac Duck, one of them being Ethan Daniels. The 12-year-old native of Alpharetta, Ga., is currently undergoing treatment for B-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. Upon seeing the Duck, he described it as “awesome.”According to his mother, Kelli Daniels, her son was awed by how the Duck responded to various attachments, as well as its breathing exercises. She added that getting Ethan Daniels his own My Special Aflac Duck would help him for years to come.

“It’s a way for Ethan to express himself without actually having to say it, because you don’t want to always say ‘I hurt. He feels like he hurts all the time,” Kelli Daniels explained.

But rather than having his mother purchase a My Special Aflac Duck, Ethan Daniels could be one of the many getting one for free. Dan Amos, Aflac chairman and CEO, explained that the company is aiming to give tens of thousands American children with cancer a free Duck to call their own.

“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,” stated Amos. “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.”

Visit to stay up to date with all news concerning My Special Aflac Duck, or other up-and-coming social robots.

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