james howells life changed when he dropped a hard drive the size of an iphone 6. howells, from the city of newport, south wales, had two identical laptop hard drives hidden in a drawer in 2013. one it was empty; he says the other contained 8,000 bitcoins, now worth about $181 million, even after the recent cryptocurrency crash.
I had intended to throw away the blank drive, but instead the drive containing the cryptocurrency ended up going to the local dump in a garbage bag.
Reading: James howell bitcoin
Nine years later, he’s determined to get his stash back, which he dug up in 2009.
howells, 36, hopes local authorities will let him stage a high-tech scavenger hunt to find the buried bitcoins. His problem is that he can’t get into the dump.
For nearly a decade, the Newport City Council has denied his requests to dig for his hard drive, saying it would be costly and environmentally damaging, but Howells is undeterred.
gave a first look at its new $11 million proposal, backed by venture capital funding, to search for up to 110,000 tons of trash. he hopes that presenting it to the council in the coming weeks will convince it to finally allow him to try to recover the hard drive.
find a hard drive in 110,000 tons of garbage
Searching for a hard drive among thousands of tons of garbage can seem like a herculean task.
But Howells, a former IT worker, says he thinks it can be accomplished through a combination of human sorters, robot dogs and an AI-driven machine trained to search for hard drives on a conveyor belt.
Your plan has two versions, based on how much landfill the city would allow you to search.
According to their estimates, the most extensive option would take three years and involve tracking 100,000 metric tons (or about 110,000 tons) of trash at a cost of $11 million. a stripped-down version would cost $6 million and take 18 months.
has assembled a team of eight experts specializing in areas including AI-powered sorting, landfill excavation, waste management and data mining, including a consultant who worked for a company that recovered data from the black box of columbia starry space. shuttle.
Experts and their companies would be hired to run the dig and would receive a bonus if the bitcoin hoard is successfully recovered.
“We’re trying to get this project up to full commercial standard,” Howells said.
howells said the machines would dig up the trash, which would then be sorted at a temporary facility near the landfill.
Human harvesters would check it, along with a machine from an Oregon company called max-ai. the machine would look like a scanner placed on a conveyor belt.
max-ai’s remi le grand told a whistleblower that the company would train artificial intelligence algorithms to detect howells-like hard drives. a mechanical arm would then select any object that might be a contender.
howells has included security costs in its plan, fearing that people might try to dig up the hard drive themselves.
has budgeted for 24-hour cctv cameras as well as two boston dynamics robotic “detector” dogs that would function as mobile cctv patrols at night and scour the area for anything look like your hard drive during the day.
howells told insider that his team had its first meeting in may at the celtic manor resort outside newport for what he called a dress rehearsal of his board presentation.
The meeting was filmed and was attended by former “top gear” presenter Richard Hammond, who has released a short documentary on YouTube about Howells.
“They’re clearly a very committed group of people who have faith in him and the plan,” Hammond told a Howells team insider.
“It’s a story that ranges from the incredibly mundane to the colossal,” Hammond said. “If I were in his position, I don’t think I would have the strength to open the door.”
after the excavation, the trash would be cleaned up and recycled to the extent possible, howells said. the rest would be reburied.
“We don’t want to harm the environment in any way,” he said. “In any case, we want to leave everything in better conditions.”
Its plans also include building a solar or wind farm on top of the landfill once the project is complete. however, the chance of the council agreeing to his vision anytime soon seems slim.
“There is nothing Mr. Howells can present to us” that would make the council agree, a council representative told Insider. “Your proposals from him pose a significant ecological risk, which we cannot accept, and indeed the terms of our permit prevent us from considering it.”
will the hard drive work if found?
The operation of the hard drive depends on a component called a “platter”, a disk made of glass or metal that contains the data. Howells says that as long as the drive isn’t crashed, there’s an 80% to 90% chance the data can be recovered.
phil bridge, a data recovery professional who has advised howells on the project, told insider these figures were accurate.
but if the platter is damaged, says bridge, there is only a small chance that the data can be recovered.
bridge says he got involved with the project because he found it intriguing. “It’s just one of those cases that piques everyone’s interest,” she said. “it would just be a fantastic success story to help him get it back and prove everyone really wrong.”
where would the funding come from?
hanspeter jaberg and karl wendeborn, two venture capitalists based, respectively, in switzerland and germany, told an insider that they had promised to provide $11 million to fund the project if howells got board approval.
“It’s obviously a needle in the haystack, and it’s a very, very high risk investment,” Jaberg said.
howells said he did not have a contract with potential sponsors, but had discussed the plan in zoom meetings. “Until I get something in writing from the Newport City Council,” he said, “there’s nothing to sign.”
what if he finds the stash of bitcoins?
howells said that if he were to recover the data, he would keep about 30% of what is there, worth just over $54 million at today’s value.
said about a third would go to the recovery team, 30% to investors and the rest to local causes, including donating £50, or about $61 at current value, in bitcoin to each of Newport’s 150,000 residents.
the amount has dropped from the $240 each he told cnn in January 2021; Howells said he decided to invest more money in securing “professional companies” for the excavation to help convince the council.
what if the council doesn’t agree with your plans?
If howells doesn’t get the council’s backing, he says, his last resort will be to take the local authority to court on the grounds that their actions constitute an “illegal seizure” of the hard drive. “I’ve been reluctant to go that route in the past because I didn’t want to cause any trouble,” he said. “I wanted to work with the Newport City Council.”
howells said he had never been granted a face-to-face meeting with the council. He said they gave him a 20-minute zoom meeting in May 2021, but he hoped his new business plan would help him get ahead.
said he met with his local parliamentarian, jessica morden, on June 24. morden’s office confirmed that the meeting took place.
Once you’ve informed the council of your new plan, all you can do is wait. “This is the best situation I’ve been in so far,” she said. “This is the most professional operation we have ever put together and we have the best people involved.”
The “cryptocurrency advocate” says he makes a living buying bitcoins every month and selling them when he needs cash.
howells says he tries not to think too much about what would get him his share of the money, if the hard drive is ever found to be working properly. “Otherwise,” he said, “you’ll just go crazy.”