The Aflac duck is being put to work in a new role: comforting children with cancer.
Officially called My Special Aflac Duck, the animatronic duck is the product of a year and research and development by Sproutel, a startup that makes health-focused toys. The goal of the duck is to provide children going through chemotherapy — often a long and grueling process — with a toy that will not only be a source of comfort, but will help them cope with treatment.
The soft duck has its own chemotherapy port and other accessories specially designed to resonate with young children going through cancer treatments. An accompanying app uses augmented reality to let kids act out feeding and bathing the toy, so that they can take on the role of a caregiver.
The company says it can also help young kids better express their feelings during treatment. Cards with RFID chips and emoji allow you to change the duck’s “mood” from happy to sad to silly to nauseous or sad or angry. The duck body language, sound effects, and facial expressions change to match the corresponding moods.
Even though it’s the Aflac duck, a corporate mascot known for a loud and somewhat annoying voice, Sproutel CEO Aaron Horowitz says their version only makes quiet soothing sounds. It can also help kids control their breathing through guided breathing sessions.
Each duck costs about $200 to produce, but Aflac says it’s partnering with hospitals so patients and their families don’t have to pay for the toy. The company say it hopes to distribute as many as 10,000 ducks over the next year, though it hasn’t yet detailed specific availability.