The quacking Aflac duck continues to serve the supplemental insurance company well, putting smiles on faces today just as it did on New Year’s Day 2000 when now-iconic duck first appeared in an Aflac television commercial, “Park Bench.” Over the years “the Duck” — as Aflac employees refer to him — has garnered awards and recognition including induction to the Advertising Walk of Fame in 2004. It also served as the symbol of Aflac’s 2013 Duckprints campaign to raise funds and awareness for childhood cancer.

More recently, designers used the Duck’s likeness to create My Special Aflac Duck, a social robot designed to comfort children with cancer. Aflac provides a My Special Aflac Duck to all children in the U.S. four years and older diagnosed with cancer, at no cost to the children or their parents. They have reached more than 2,700 children so far. In recognition of this greatest- of- all-services by the Duck, My Special Aflac Duck took top honors at the recent 2019 SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards, winning in the People’s Choice and Robotics and Hardware categories.

The Duck’s robotic counterpart’s role with children with cancer is a poignant indication of the potential for social robots with other populations including children and seniors. It’s safe to say that we can expect to see increased applications for emotionally supportive responsive robots that interact with humans such as My Special Aflac Duck in the near future.