Man Turns to Robot Dogs to Recover Hard Drive with 7,500 BTC

Years after making the news for accidentally discarding a hard drive holding nearly 7500 BTC, James Howells has a plan to recover his cryptocurrency.               

How Howells Lost BTC Worth 176M USD

An IT engineer, Howells was one of the first people to come in contact with the world’s largest digital currency, Bitcoin. He mined about 7500 tokens in a week, stored them in a hard drive, and promptly forgot about it. However, sometime later in August 2013, Howells came across the device again.

According to the IT engineer, he had 2 identical laptop hard drives and had kept his private key on one of them. However, while clearing out his home, Howells accidentally tossed the device into the trash. A garbage truck picked it up in the morning and $176M worth of BTC ended up in a landfill in Newport, Wales.

Nine years have passed since and Howells is determined to recover the funds. His current plan involves the use of 2 robotic “Spot” dogs and will cost roughly 11 million dollars. Here’s a breakdown of what is a high-tech treasure hunt through a landfill.

Howells believes the plan calls for human sorters and robot dogs. Additionally, his idea needs AI-powered machines designed to identify hard drives on a conveyor belt. Notably, he has put together a team of 8 experts in various fields.

Some are landfill excavation, waste management, and data extraction. Interestingly, one member of the team is an advisor who worked at a company that retrieved information from the black box of the crashed Columbia space shuttle. 

Details of the Plan

Howells intends to employ the team members and their respective companies to carry out the excavation. Provided they successfully retrieve the BTC hard drive they will receive a bonus. Machines will then dig up the garbage and the sorting will take place at a pop-up site close by. 

Human pickers come in at this stage as well as a machine from Max-AI, an Oregon-based company. The machine in question is somewhat like a scanner placed above a conveyor belt. According to Max-AI’s Remi Le Grand, the company intends to create algorithms to identify devices similar to Howells’ hard drive.  

Robot Dogs Named “Satoshi” and “Hal”

Meanwhile, the robot dogs will fill a double role as security-and-search patrols. Engineering firm Boston dynamics designed the dogs which will comb the area for items similar to the hard drive during the day. At night, they will work as mobile CCTV patrols. Howells purchased his interesting “Spot” dogs for $74,500 each in 2020. 

Howells’ plans as one could stand guard as the second replenishes its energy. The BTC investor intends to tag the robots Satoshi and Hal. Notably, Howells fears that people might go after the hard drives themselves, hence, the robust security. 

We’re trying to achieve this project to a full commercial standard,” he said.

Council Might Deny Access to the Landfill

Howells’ plan may sound good, however, it might not be easy to pull off. To start with, since 2013, he has been working to obtain permission from the local council to dig up the landfill. The location isn’t public property and Howells carrying out his plans without approval would be a criminal offense.

However, so far he has been unsuccessful as the council has raised the question of the environmental impact. 

A council representative revealed that “nothing that Mr. Howells could present” would convince them to give their approval.

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There’s also the question of the state of the hard drive, after 9 years it may have sustained damage. Regardless, Howells presses on confident that he can retrieve the Bitcoins as the platter inside the hard drive may be intact. 

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