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RIP robot dogs: Funerals held for metal mutts

Saying final goodbyes to personality-filled pet robotic dogs isn't easy. Now that Sony has shut down its AIBO customer support, robot dog owners are holding funerals for their broken pooches.

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This is what a robot dog funeral looks like in Japan. Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Since Sony decided to discontinue its popular AIBO robotic toy dogs and close the shops that fix them when they break, owners have had to come to terms with the fact that the lights in their lovable pets' eyes may be gone forever.

More and more of the 150,000 AIBO dogs sold are slowly "dying" due to lack of parts and repairs, and some owners are paying their respects to the lifelike creatures -- with funerals. In one such recent ceremony held in the Chiba prefecture in Japan, engineers from A-Fun, a company staffed by former Sony engineers who specialize in AIBO repairs, posed with 19 broken AIBO dogs while a priest prayed for their "souls."

"Each one has a tag with the owner's name and the place from where they came written on it," Digital Trends reported. "The head priest of the temple prays for the 19 AIBO dogs, and says it's to aid the robotic souls in passing from the bodies."

The robotic dogs were launched in 1999 and became a must-have tech toy throughout the 2000s. AIBO dogs use AI to speak and express their "feelings," and because of their ability to develop personalities, many people consider them more than just a high-tech toy. It's easy to see how integrated AIBOs have become in families around the world.

Just do a search on YouTube for "AIBO dog" and you'll see numerous videos of various AIBO robot models playing with toys and interacting with humans. Real dogs are caught playing ball with them and sniffing the butts of their robot pals. Even pet cats warm up to AIBO dogs eventually.

"The people who have them (AIBO dogs) feel their presence and personality," Nobuyuki Narimatsu, director of A-Fun, explained in a video. "So we think that somehow, they really have souls."

Sony cancelled the production of new AIBO dogs in 2006, but the last official clinic in Japan to fix the toys was closed as recently as last year. This means AIBO owners are scrambling for both spare parts and the trained personnel to fix their robotic pups. While many AIBO owners have been on waiting lists for parts to help their broken dogs, others are facing the tough truth that without the proper parts and expertise to fix their dogs, they may have to say their final farewells.

Ironically, the only source of AIBO parts is "dead" robots that act as a kind of donor for organ transplants. But according to Agence France Presse, these will be harvested for parts only after they've been given a proper funeral. Says AFP, "A shortage of robot organs means 180 dogs remain hospitalized."