We’re spending more time at CES 2018 calling out the societal and health impacts of technologies, especially for children and under-served people. How surprised and delighted I am to find a positive, enchanting impact at the convergence of kids and tech…from a duck.

When I say “duck,” there are a few images that probably swim up in your mind’s eye: Donald, Daisy, Daffy, Howard, Darkwing, and the brand-famous Aflac Duck (who has his own Twitter handle @AflacDuck). It’s this last-named web-footed feathered friend who is a major star here at CES 2018 in the persona of My Special Aflac Duck. Seventeen years after the Aflac Duck’s introduction as a marketing mascot, Aflac is leveraging this fuzzy creature’s brand equity and goodwill to do good for kids with cancer.

Aflac, the insurance company well-branded by the Aflac Duck, has contributed over $120 million as part of the company’s Childhood Cancer Campaign. Aflac collaborated with Sproutel to imagine, design, and bring to life My Special Aflac Duck.

My Special Aflac Duck is a very soft and cuddly robotic toy with natural movements. The joyful device is meant to help distract young people dealing with cancer. this is a complex mash-up of technology, with four patents pending and countless hours of kid-centered user research. An accompanying app enables various play, feeding, bathing, and clinical routines to help young patients experience their care with the duck as a care partner.

I met Sproutel in 2012 at a Health 2.0 Conference when Aaron Horowitz and Hannah Chung, Sproutel’s founders, prototyped Jerry the Bear, a sensor/robotic fuzzy thing to help kids with Type 1 diabetes manage their condition. Since then, Sproutel has grown into an R&D workshop, “focused on making health care playful,” in their words. Here’s the post I wrote here in Health Populi about my special encounter with Jerry the Bear (I’m proud to say I was one of his first adult human huggers). That’s Aaron with a prototype duck in the photo.

My Special Aflac Duck won this year’s CES 2018 Innovation Award for Tech for a Better World. If I could have been a judge for this award, My Special Aflac Duck would have garnered my vote. He has my adoration, anyway.

Here is Aflac’s press release on this project.

I can’t tell the story of Sproutel and this awesome Duck better than this video does, so please, take a quick look and be enchanted. Your day will be better having done so.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  The powers of play, joy and enchantment are positive ingredients for healing and staying healthy, lots of clinical research studies have demonstrated. You can imagine what Sproutel’s learnings could augment self-care and home care devices for people aging at home, at the other end of the age/lifecycle continuum.

Raise the issue of technology and children today, and we conjure up concerns about privacy, mental health, digital addiction, and social isolation. But let’s learn from Aflac, Sproutel and this very Special Duck: technology can be used for good, for fun, for health. Sproutel’s design DNA is ruthlessly, lovingly focused on user-centered design — in this case, incorporating sick kids’ and caregivers’ input over the development process. The proof is in the outcome, which you can begin to appreciate through the video. Over the next several months, Sproutel will continue to gather design ideas and feedback from kids in Atlanta at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare.

By late 2018/19, children with cancer around the U.S. will have their own Special Duck to love, to hug, to heal with. Technology can help health, and can help change the world for the better. Let’s keep this in our minds and hearts as we all do our parts building health/tech ecosystems.