The Aflac Duck and Chemotherapy: How One Company Is Creating a Companion to Help Children with Cancer

Seeing children with cancer has never been something that I found professionally I could do. It’s probably why I prefer a geriatric population. My limited experiences standout with the tears and sadness in the parents, and for the children as they underwent chemotherapy and supportive care. I always enjoyed the programs that hospitals and staff would engage in to help make the stay manageable and encourage playtime for the kids. For that reason, when I heard about a new supportive toy being developed to help kids undergoing chemotherapy, I had to write about it, because it is novel and I can see how children may like it.

Sproutel is a company that has been creating ‘companion robots’ for a few years. Their first robot is called ‘Jerry the Bear’ and was created to help children with type 1 diabetes better understand their disease and management. The children take care of Jerry, feeding him, checking his blood sugar, and giving him insulin. In many ways, it helps children understand why they need to do certain things. By taking care of Jerry, they can better take care of themselves.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see the creators talk about their journey in creating Jerry, and how they spent time with patients to make a fulfilling product. It wasn’t easy, and I think that is really one of the issues when trying to get this type of device right for a difficult market.

Their most recent product unveiled is the Aflac Duck. I know, it is the duck from the insurance commercial, but did you know that Aflac sponsors a cancer center? This robot was pioneered and tested with the children at that center, and it is aimed to help children with cancer have emotional support and an interactive platform to understand treatment.

The duck is adorable. Watch the video that demonstrates how it was created and how it acts. Its core features include the ability for patients to give it emotions that identify how they are feeling (happy, sad, etc.). Also, the duck can receive treatment through a port-a-cath, as well, when the patient is getting treatment.2 What I like is the emotional support outlet, and I admire that the aim is to get this thing for free to all children with cancer. I don’t know if that is possible, but I can hope.

Now, companion robots aren’t new. There are a bunch on the market, and I stand by the cutest one I have seen: the Paro robot created by a Japanese automaton company that is designed to give patients with Alzheimer’s a support ‘animal,’ and is modeled off a baby white seal.3 Seriously, it is cute and makes cute noises.

Aside from robots, other products have sought to have patients care for a digital companion ,as well. One, MySugr, has users taming their ‘diabetes monster’ to help control their sugar levels. It helps coach the patient to have a healthier lifestyle. I’ve seen other apps take almost a Tamagotchi approach whereby it helps the user understand what foods to eat and activities that they should do to be healthy.