The toy in question – a plush robot duck – was created in the image of the insurance company Aflac’s mascot, reports the Associated Press. The publication describes the duck as “a social robot that can be silly, happy, angry, scared or sick just like them, and help them cope creatively with their illness through the power of play.”
Robotics expert Aaron Horowitz and his company Sproutel created the ducks, which are now in the testing phase. It’s anticipated that the ducks will see wide distribution by the end of 2018.
The Associated Press notes that hospitals have used such robot tactics to help children, though Aflac and Horowitz aren’t suggesting that these ducks have any kind of medicinal quality.
An Aflac spokesman told the Associated Press the ducks will be free for children in the U.S. with cancer.
Here’s what the duck reportedly can do:
- Make comforting beach or rainforest sounds
- Aid in deep-breathing exercises that children can mimic themselves to help them relax
- Help imitate chemotherapy injections via an attachable tube
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 10,270 kids younger than 15 years old were projected to be diagnosed with cancer last year. Childhood cancers are only 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed per year. The most common childhood cancers are leukemias and brain and central nervous system cancer, according to 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers.
One woman – Kelli Daniels of Alpharetta, Georgia, whose son Ethan has B-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma – is looking forward to Ethan having a duck of his own. He said “awesome” after first being introduced to one.
“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,'” Daniels told the Associated Press. “He feels like he hurts all the time.”