James Howells’ life changed when he threw out a hard bulldoze almost the size of an iPhone 6.
Howells, from the city of Newport in southern Wales, had two identical laptop difficult drives squirreled away in a drawer in 2013. One was blank; he says the other contained 8,000 bitcoins — now worth nearly $181 1000000, even after the recent crypto crash.
He’d meant to throw out the blank one, but instead the drive containing the cryptocurrency ended upwards going to the local dump in a garbage bag.
Nine years later, he’south determined to become back his stash, which he mined in 2009.
Howells, 36, is hoping local authorities volition let him stage a high-tech treasure hunt for the buried bitcoins. His trouble is that he tin’t get into the dump.
For about a decade, Newport’s city council has denied his requests to dig for his hard drive, saying it would be expensive and environmentally damaging, but Howells is not deterred.
He gave Insider a first look at his new $11 one thousand thousand proposal — backed by venture-capital letter funding — to search up to 110,000 tons of garbage. He hopes presenting it to the council in the coming weeks will persuade information technology to allow him finally try to recover the hard drive.
Finding a difficult bulldoze in 110,000 tons of garbage
Looking for a hard drive among thousands of tons of garbage might seem like a Herculean job.
Merely Howells, a former IT worker, says he believes it’southward doable through a combination of homo sorters, robot dogs, and an bogus-intelligence-powered motorcar trained to await for hard drives on a conveyor belt.
His programme has two versions, based on how much of the landfill the council would allow him to search.
By his estimates, the most extensive option would have three years and involve scouring 100,000 metric tons — or nearly 110,000 tons — of garbage at a cost of $xi million. A scaled-down version would price $6 one thousand thousand and accept 18 months.
He has assembled a team of eight experts specializing in areas including AI-powered sorting, landfill digging, waste product management, and data extraction — including one advisor who worked for a company that recovered data from the black box of the crashed Columbia infinite shuttle.
The experts and their companies would be contracted to execute the earthworks and would receive a bonus should the bitcoin hoard exist successfully retrieved.
“We’re trying to achieve this project to a total commercial standard,” Howells said.
Howells said machines would dig up the garbage, which would then be sorted at a pop-upwards facility near the landfill.
Human pickers would sift through it, forth with a machine from a company in Oregon called Max-AI. The machine would look like a scanner set up over a conveyor chugalug.
Remi Le Grand of Max-AI told Insider the company would train AI algorithms to spot hard drives that look similar to Howells’. A mechanical arm would so pick out whatsoever objects that could exist contenders.
Howells has congenital security costs into his plan, fearing people may try to dig upwardly the hard drive themselves.
He’s budgeted for 24-hour CCTV cameras besides as two robotic “Spot” dogs from Boston Dynamics that would function as mobile CCTV patrols at night and sweep the area for anything that looks like his hard drive past twenty-four hour period.
Howells told Insider his team had its first meeting in May at the Celtic Estate Resort outside Newport for what he chosen a dress rehearsal of his pitch to the quango.
Information technology’southward a story that goes from the incredibly mundane to the colossal
The meeting was filmed and attended by the old “Pinnacle Gear” host Richard Hammond, who has released a short YouTube documentary nigh Howells.
“They’re clearly a bunch of very committed people who have organized religion in him and the plan,” Hammond told Insider of Howells’s squad.
“Information technology’south a story that goes from the incredibly mundane to the colossal,” Hammond said. “If I were in his position, I don’t think I’d have the force to answer the door.”
After excavation, the garbage would be cleaned and as much equally possible would exist recycled, Howells said. The residual would be reburied.
“Nosotros do not want to damage the environment in any way,” he said. “If anything, we want to leave everything in a improve condition.”
His plans also include building either a solar or wind-energy subcontract on superlative of the landfill site one time the project is completed. All the same the chance of the council agreeing to his vision anytime soon looks slim.
“There is zip that Mr. Howells could nowadays to united states” that would brand the council agree, a council representative told Insider. “His proposals pose meaning ecological risk, which we cannot take and indeed are prevented from considering past the terms of our permit.”
Volition the hard drive fifty-fifty work if it’s establish?
Whether the hard drive will work depends on a component called the “platter” — a disc fabricated of either glass or metal that holds the data. Howells says that and then long as the platter isn’t croaky, there’south an 80% to 90% run a risk the data will be retrievable.
Phil Bridge, a data-recovery professional who has advised Howells on the project, told Insider these figures were accurate.
Just if the platter is damaged, Bridge says, there is merely a small gamble the information could be retrieved.
Span says he got involved with the project because he institute it intriguing. “It’due south just one of those cases that piques anyone’s interest,” he said. “It would be just a fantastic success story to help him get information technology back and prove anybody wrong really.”
Where would the funding come from?
Hanspeter Jaberg and Karl Wendeborn, two venture capitalists who are based, respectively, in Switzerland and Germany, told Insider they had promised to provide $11 million to fund the project if Howells won council blessing.
“Information technology’s evidently a needle in the haystack, and it’southward a very, very loftier-take chances investment,” Jaberg said.
Howells said he didn’t have a contract with the prospective backers but had discussed the program in Zoom meetings. “Until I’ve got something in writing from Newport Metropolis Quango,” he said, “in that location is nothing to sign up to.”
What if he does notice the bitcoin stash?
Howells said if he managed to call up the data, he would keep roughly 30% of what’s on in that location — worth just over $54 million at current value.
He said most a third would go to the recovery team, 30% to the investors, and the rest for local causes including giving £50, or about $61 at current value, in bitcoin to each of Newport’south 150,000 residents.
The amount has fallen from the $240 each he told CNN in January 2021; Howells said he decided to put more money into securing “professional companies” for the digging to help convince the council.
What if the quango doesn’t agree to his plans?
If Howells fails to get the council’s bankroll, he says, his last resort will be taking the local authority to court with the claim that its actions institute an “illegal embargo” on the hard drive. “I’ve been reluctant to go down that route in the by because I’ve not wanted to cause problems,” he said. “I wanted to work with Newport Metropolis Council.”
Howells said he’d never been granted a contiguous meeting with the quango. He said he was given a 20-minute Zoom meeting in May 2021 just hoped his new business program would assistance him pause through.
He said he met with his local member of Parliament, Jessica Morden, on June 24. Morden’s role confirmed the meeting took identify.
Once he’due south fabricated the quango aware of his new plan, all he can do is expect. “This is the best situation I’ve been in then far,” he said. “This is the most professional operation we’ve put together, and we’ve got all the best people involved.”
The “crypto proponent” says he makes his living by buying bitcoin every calendar month and selling information technology when he needs cash.
Howells says he tries not to call back also much about what his share of the coin would allow him to exercise, if the hard drive is always found in working order. “Otherwise,” he said, “y’all but bulldoze yourself crazy.”