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]

6 Fun Backgrounds to Use on Your Next Video Call

You might be stuck in the living room, but it doesn't have to look like it.
You might be stuck in the living room, but it doesn't have to look like it.
Ridofranz/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re struggling to find a perfectly decorated wall in your house to serve as the backdrop for your video calls with friends, family, and coworkers, we have good news: Video conferencing platform Zoom lets you customize your very own virtual background.

To do it, log into your Zoom account, go to “Settings” on the left side of your screen, and choose the "Meeting" tab. Scroll down to the “In Meeting (Advanced)” section, and then scroll down farther to make sure the “Virtual background” option is enabled. After that, open the Zoom application on your desktop, click on the “Settings” wheel in the upper right corner, and go to “Virtual Background.” There are a few automatic options, but you can choose your own image from your computer files by clicking on the plus-sign icon.

Now, the only thing left to do is decide which image will best set the tone for your next video call. From the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room to Schitt’s Creek’s Rosebud Motel, here are six of our favorites.

1. The Rosebud Motel lobby from Schitt’s Creek

schitt's creek rose motel lobby
It's not the Ritz-Carlton.
CBC

You can imagine that David is just out of frame, doing his best to carry on a silent—albeit with lots of expressive gesturing—conversation with Stevie at the front desk. (More Schitt's Creek backgrounds here.)

2. Carl and Ellie’s house from Up

carl and ellie's house from up
Balloons not included.
Walt Disney Pictures

If you’re hoping to create a calming atmosphere, look no further than the cozy little sitting room where Carl and Ellie grew old together in 2009's Up. (More Pixar backgrounds here.)

3. The attic study from Knives Out

knives out attic study
Nothing bad has ever happened here.
Lionsgate

If your own study isn’t quite teeming with intriguing souvenirs and leather-bound volumes, feel free to borrow this one from the mansion in 2019’s Knives Out. (More Knives Out backgrounds here.)

4. The USS Enterprise from Star Trek

star trek's uss enterprise bridge
A great way to get your coworkers to fess up to being huge Trekkies.
TrekCore.com, Twitter

Blame your spotty internet connection on the fact that you’re traveling through the galaxy at the speed of light with this background from the bridge of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. (More Star Trek backgrounds here.)

5. The New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room

new york public library reading room
You reserve the right to shush any coworkers who forgot to mute themselves.
New York Public Library

Bibliophiles who can’t make it to the library can still pay a virtual visit to the sumptuous Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library’s iconic Fifth Avenue location. (More New York Public Library backgrounds here.)

6. The Werk Room from RuPaul’s Drag Race

rupaul's drag race werk room
Sashay away from the screen if you're taking a bathroom break during the call.
VH1

Dazzle your coworkers by calling in from the vibrant room where all the magic—and most of the drama—happens on RuPaul’s Drag Race. If you happen to be decked out in an ensemble made entirely of things you found at the Dollar Store, even better. (More RuPaul's Drag Race backgrounds here.)

Turn Your Favorite Photos Into Works of Art With Google’s Art App

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Edvard Munch, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If your local art museum is closed, a new app from Google Arts & Culture will make the photos in your camera roll worthy of gallery consideration. As Gizmodo reports, the Art Transfer feature uses artificial intelligence to reimagine any image you upload in the style of a famous artist.

If you've already downloaded Arts & Culture for Android or iOS, hit the camera icon at the bottom of the app and select Art Transfer. From here, you can either snap a photo or choose an existing picture saved on your phone. Google then gives you a variety of art styles to choose from. You can transform your cat into Edvard Munch's The Scream, for example, or turn your brunch pic from last month into a piece of Yayoi Kusama pop art.

The feature doesn't just apply filters; it uses machine learning to edit the colors, textures, and even shapes in the image you upload.

Dog image inspired by Man from Naples.
Michele Debczak/Mental Floss, Google Arts & Culture

Pizza picture inspired by The Scream.
Michele Debczak/Mental Floss, Google Arts & Culture

Two years ago, Google Arts & Culture rolled out a similar feature that matched users' selfies to their art lookalikes. The difference with this one is that instead of showing you existing art, it creates an entirely new image by combining your photo with a famous artwork.

You can download Arts & Culture for free today from the App Store or Google Play. After having fun with the new feature, you can use the app to virtually explore landmarks, museums, and other cultural institutions from the comfort of your home.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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