Every year, I go to CES and expect to see a lot of amazing tech. Tech that makes a difference in the day-to-day lives of busy adults who are trying to find realistic—and high-tech—ways to live better (I mean, a suitcase that I don’t have to lug through the airport fits that bill for me). But this year, I came across something unexpected: The My Special Aflac Duck.
Created by a research and development workshop called Sproutel in partnership with Aflac (yes, I’m talking about the insurance company with the quacking mascot), the My Special Aflac Duck is a new social robot/therapy animal that’s designed to help children coping with cancer. How? It does this by knowing when to mirror their moods and when to distract them with fun playtime. It allows them to use the duck to mirror their care routines and feed and bathe using augmented reality games. Most poignantly, it helps them feel less alone: every step of the way, even through painful therapies, there’s lots of nuzzling and quacking, making the experience a lot less scary and stressful for kids.
I was touched by the creativity and innovation of a product like this. But I’m not the only one: The My Special Aflac Duck actually took home a best of CES awards for this year’s most unexpected product out of close to 4,000 exhibitors. Sproutel has been developing it for the past year at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, one of the most prominent children’s cancer centers in the U.S. Testing is set to continue this year with a nationwide launch planned for winter 2018.
This product was something special to see. It’s also proof of the dramatic impact innovative technology can make on the lives of others, whether you’re a kid or an adult.