Aflac's Robotic Duck Comforts Kids with Cancer

Aflac
Aflac

Every year, close to 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer. That news can be the beginning of a long and draining battle that forces kids and their parents to spend large amounts of time with medical providers, enduring long and sometimes painful treatments. As The Verge reports, a bit of emotional support during that process might soon come from an unlikely source: the Alfac duck.

The supplemental insurance company announced at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that it has partnered with the medical robotics company Sproutel to design and manufacture My Special Aflac Duck, a responsive and emotive sim-bird intended exclusively for children undergoing cancer treatment.

When a child cuddles the fuzzy robotic duck, it can cuddle back. It reacts to being cradled and stroked by quacking or moving its head. Kids can also touch special RFID chips emblazoned with emoji on the duck's chest to tell it how they’re feeling, and the device will mimic those emotions.

But the duck isn’t solely for cuddling. In “IV Mode,” which can be switched on while a child is undergoing IV therapy, the duck can help the user relax by guiding them through breathing exercises. Accessories included with the toy also allow children to "draw blood" from the duck as well as administer medication, a kind of role-playing that may help patients feel more comfortable with their own treatments.

Aflac approached Sproutel with the idea after seeing Sproutel’s Jerry the Bear, a social companion robot intended to support kids with diabetes. Other robotic companions—like the Japanese-made seal Paro and Hasbro's Joy for All companion pets for seniors—have hinted at a new market for robotics that prioritize comfort over entertainment or play.

My Special Aflac Duck isn’t a commercial product and won’t be available for retail sale. Aflac intends to offer it as a gift directly to patients, with the first rollout expected at its own cancer treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia. Mass distribution is planned for later this year.

[h/t The Verge]

Aquarium Points Out Anatomical Error in Apple's Squid Emoji

iStock.com
iStock.com

When an inaccurate image makes it into Apple's emoji keyboard, the backlash is usually swift. But the squid emoji had been around for more than two years before the Monterey Bay Aquarium pointed out a major anatomical error on Twitter. As The Verge reports, the emoji depicts a squid with a siphon on its face—not on the back of its head, where it should be.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium dragged Apple for the misstep on Wednesday, December 5. "Not even squidding the siphon should be behind the head," the aquarium tweeted, "rn it just looks like a weirdo nose."

A squid's siphon serves some vital purposes. It pumps water over the gills, allowing it to breathe, and it blasts water away when the squid needs to propel through the sea. It's also the orifice out of which waste is expelled, making its placement right between the eyes in the emoji version especially unfortunate.

Emojis have incited outrage from marine biology experts in the past. When the Unicode Consortium released an early design of its lobster emoji earlier this year, people were quick to point out that it was missing a set of legs. Luckily the situation was rectified in time for the emoji's official release.

Apple has been known to revise designs to appease the public, but getting the squid's siphon moved to the other side of its head may be a long shot: Until the most recent backlash, the emoji had existed controversy-free since 2016.

[h/t The Verge]

The 10 Best Apps of 2018, According to Google

iStock.com/hocus-focus
iStock.com/hocus-focus

One common complaint about the YouTube app is that you need a premium membership to keep listening to audio after you've closed out of the app. Despite this inconvenience, the free version of the YouTube app is still wildly popular. After all, it’s the most downloaded iPhone app of 2018, according to CNN’s analysis of Apple data, and the company’s cable-free YouTube TV app is also this year’s “fan favorite” among Android users.

Apple’s list of the most downloaded apps of the year and Google’s picks for the best Android apps of 2018 paint a pretty clear picture of how we’ve been spending (or wasting) our time. And it’s clear that we can’t get enough of social media. After YouTube, the top downloaded free iPhone apps are Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, and Facebook.

Avatar-creating app Bitmoji, which was the most downloaded app last year, dropped to sixth place in the latest ranking. Snapchat, which owns Bitmoji, also dropped one spot from last year. The social media app reportedly lost 3 million users last summer after an unpopular redesign.

Two photo editing tools—Facetune and Kirakira+—are this year’s most popular paid apps, while Fortnite is the most popular game.

Some of Google’s picks for the best Android apps, on the other hand, are less widely known. Take, for instance, the language-learning app Drops—its top recommendation. The Duolingo competitor offers lessons in 31 languages, including two Spanish variations (Castilian and Latin-American), Cantonese, Arabic, and even native Hawaiian.

Here are a few other apps that Google recommends, many of which are also available for iOS:

1. Vimage: Add animations to photos
2. Scout FM: Listen to podcasts
3. Slowly: Send “snail mail” to pen pals around the world
4. Luci: Keep track of lucid dreams
5. Mimo: Learn to write code
6. MasterClass: Learn how to cook, act, and more
7. Just a Line: Draw with augmented reality
8. 10% Happier: Learn to meditate
9. Notion: Track your productivity
10. Sift: Shop smarter and get refunds when prices drop

[h/t CNN]

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