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Iconic Aflac Duck Takes On New Innovative Role For Kids With Cancer

by Catherine Hernandez-Blades, Aflac

March 1, 2018

In the United States, 1 in 285 children is diagnosed with cancer each year. That is roughly 16,000 children whose childhood is abruptly taken from them once diagnosed. No longer are their days filled with whimsical play dates with friends, school, and sports—but rather their time is spent in a lonely hospital room, receiving medical treatment from devoted doctors and nurses.

As a pioneer in cancer insurance, Aflac has seen the impact cancer can have—especially on children. It’s an overwhelming burden, and there’s always more that can be done to support individuals and their loved ones. We have spent 22 years and raised more than $122 million to fund research and treatment for childhood cancer. But we know that kids need more than medicine to cope with cancer—they need emotional support to help ease the burdens of their cancer treatment.

To give children more cuddles, comfort, and coping during their care, we decided to give our beloved Aflac Duck a new and innovative role for the first time. My Special Aflac DuckTM was unveiled at an unlikely place for an insurance company—the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

As the latest extension for Aflac’s Childhood Cancer CampaignTM, My Special Aflac Duck is a “smart” comforting companion that helps child cancer patients cope with their treatments by making them feel less alone. With lifelike movement and emotions and an augmented-reality app, it uses medical play to help children better manage the stress involved with cancer. We hatched My Special Aflac Duck in partnership with Sproutel, a company that creates technology—at the intersection of patient and market needs—to achieve health outcomes.

So, how does My Special Aflac Duck help provide comfort to kids with cancer? It does so in a very simple and elegant way. With a year of child-centered research behind it, the duck comes with feeling cards that, when touched to his chest, causes it to express the emotions that children often find difficult to express, emulating their moods, such as sad, scared or happy, for example. It makes naturalistic movements enabling joyful play, with which kids can relate.

A compatible web-based app enables children to mirror their care routines, including medical play, feeding and bathing via augmented reality. The smart companion dances, quacks and nuzzles to help comfort children when they need it most.

Do not expect to see My Special Aflac Duck on the shelves at toy stores; it’s special, because it’s not for sale. Our goal is to get this caring social robot into the arms of the nearly 16,000 American children newly diagnosed with cancer each year, beginning in winter 2018/2019, at no cost to children and their families. Because no child should ever have to face cancer alone.

To see videos of My Special Aflac Duck in action and to learn more, please visit AflacChildhoodCancer.org.

By Catherine Hernandez-Blades, Senior Vice President, Chief Brand and Communications Officer at Aflac (USA).