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RFID Duck Fits the Bill for Caretakers Comforting Kids With Cancer

The RFID-enabled My Special Aflac Duck uses Sproutel technology to help young cancer patients convey their feelings with RFID-tagged emoji tokens, an IV kit and a soundscape-triggering rocket.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 29, 2018

Radio frequency identification technology may be commonly known for bringing visibility to commercial and industrial environments, but in some cases, it can also be used simply to deliver comfort. Technology company Sproutel is partnering with insurance firm Aflac to put a free RFID-enabled duck into the arms of every cancer patient between the ages of 3 and 13 throughout the United States. The technology will help youngsters to convey their emotions to health-care providers, and to cope with the stress of their treatment, through the use of passive RFID tokens tapped against the battery-powered toy.

Sproutel, located in Providence, R.I., makes interactive games designed for children suffering from chronic illnesses. The company released Jerry the Bear in 2013 (see Sproutel's RFID-enabled Bear Helps Kids Cope With Type-1 Diabetes), employing RFID-tagged "food" for the bear that helps the children manage their own blood-sugar levels by learning what they can eat. If RFID-enabled foods were recognized by the reader built into the bear, it was approved on the screen mounted on the doll's belly, and the kids could then feed the bear.

Sproutel's Aaron Horowitz works to test the My Special Aflac Duck.
In 2017, however, Jerry the Bear was redeveloped, says Aaron Horowitz, Sproutel's CEO, in order to leverage augmented-reality patches instead of RFID technology. The patches can be scanned using the camera on a user's smartphone, and an app on the phone would then respond accordingly to help him or her understand if specific foods were appropriate for the diabetic bear.

"We took all the electronics out of the bear," Horowitz says, because many young patients already have smartphones on hand (particularly those who utilize a continuous glucose monitor). By removing the reader and related technology, he explains, the company enabled the bear to be much less expensive.

The duck (shown here as a prototype) is designed to interact with people.
According to Horowitz, My Special Aflac Duck has a different challenge that RFID best addresses. Young users need the duck to play with and express their feelings without requiring an app or smartphone. That, in part, is due to the fact that Aflac has made what it calls a philanthropic commitment to providing the duck to all young cancer patients—many of whom may not have access to a smartphone.

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