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Japanese worry about the souls of robot dogs

by on27 April 2018

Robot dogs go to silicon heaven

Japanese owners of old robot dogs have been holding traditional funerals for their "pets".

The funerals are the same as any with incense smoke, a priest chanting a sutra, praying for the peaceful transition of the souls of the departed. The only difference is that the soul was that of a robot dog – 114 of Sony's old generations of AIBO robot dogs, each wearing a tag to show where they came from and to which family they belonged.

The AIBO is no longer in production, owners of old or "dead" robodogs often send them to Sony, the only way it can obtain genuine parts to use for repairs. The defunct dogs serve as the equivalent of organ donors for defective robots, but before they are put to use, the company that guts and cannibalises the old robots A FUN honours them with a traditional funeral.

The dogs often arrive with letters that give their names, how they spent their lives and other details.

Bungen Oi, the priest at the 450-year-old Kofukuji temple in Isumi, east of Tokyo, dismisses the idea that holding memorials for machines is absurd.

"All things have a bit of soul", he told AFP after the service.

Sony rolled out the first-generation AIBO in June 1999, with the initial batch of 3,000 selling out in just 20 minutes, despite the hefty 250,000 yen (more than $2,000) price tag.

Over the following years, more than 150,000 units were sold, in numerous iterations, ranging from gleaming metallic-silver versions to round-faced cub-like models.

By 2006, however, Sony's business was in trouble and the AIBO, an expensive and somewhat frivolous luxury, had to go. The company kept its "AIBO Clinic" open until March 2014, but then told dedicated and loving owners that they were on their own.

Desperate owners have turned to A FUN, which draws on the knowledge of former Sony engineers, to get repairs.

In January, Sony unveiled a new version of its robot dog, the "aibo", packed with artificial intelligence and internet connectivity, but it has not resumed repairs of old models.



Last modified on 27 April 2018
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