Shedding light on the fish flopThe 5.7 billion won ($5.57 million) used to develop a fleet of robot fish built to monitor water quality in Korea’s rivers appears to have gone down the drain. The Board of Audit and Inspection announced yesterday the results of its inquiry, which proved that the fish were faulty and dysfunctional. The government invested billions of dollars in scientific projects to develop the battery-powered fish to gather data and preserve water quality in the country’s four major rivers. Those efforts were part of former President Lee Myung-bak’s signature Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, declared complete in 2011.
According to the Board of Audit and Inspection findings, seven of the nine robots tested over three years did not satisfy their original function. Five were already useless before the audit began. One broke down when auditors attempted to test it. The remaining one also worked improperly. Underwater communication did not go beyond 50 meters (164 feet), one-tenth of its original capacity at a bit transmission rate of 200 bps. With such a poor remote computing rate, the robot is completely useless in swimming alone underwater, let alone compiling data or monitoring sea conditions. The government has spent millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on these toys.
The robotic fish was personally showcased by former President Lee who went live on TV on Nov. 27, 2009, to explain his ambitious vision of revitalizing our waterlines. The scam would have been kept under wraps had the state watchdog not embarked on an investigation into relevant state-funded think tanks, including the Korea Research Council for Industrial Science and Technology and the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology, which was in charge of the robot project. The probe was requested by the National Assembly in November.
Worse, the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology falsely reported the success of the project when submitting its final analysis to the Korea Research Council, and also used up research funds for other purposes. Public skepticism of pork-barrel projects worsens whenever state projects turn out to be botched and corrupt. The government must fully investigate the case and punish the people accountable. It must also clarify how the budget was misappropriated without thorough review and explain how such a ridiculous flop stayed covered up in past inspections.