Boston Dynamics robot dogs, artificial intelligence, and a dash of hope for getting his crazy plan approved.
The life of James Howells changed when he threw out a hard drive that may be the most valuable in history. His drawer at the time contained two 2.5-inch hard drives, one of which he intended to sell, and the other of which contained a digital wallet containing around 7,500 Bitcoins. Despite Bitcoin falling significantly from its peak value of nearly $67,000, the wallet still holds close to $185 million in digital tokens.
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When he accidentally threw the wrong drive in the trash, the British engineer asked Newport’s city council to allow him to dig it up in a landfill. The local government refused his requests repeatedly, even after he offered to pay one quarter of the cryptocurrency holdings. His “treasure hunt” is considered harmful to the environment under all of the forms it has taken over the past nine years.
Still, he isn’t giving up. The hedge fund-backed proposal Howells is looking to present to local authorities may persuade them to let him find the valuable hard drive. This small device would be hard to find in over 100,000 tons of garbage, but the engineer believes that artificial intelligence and automation could make the process more efficient.
In order to come up with this new plan, Howells has developed two versions. For the first, a combination of human sorters and robot “Spot” dogs from Boston Dynamics would be used, as well as a conveyor belt with automated sorting systems – all of which would cost no less than $11 million and take nine to twelve months to complete. As well as this operation, he envisions a scaled-back version that would cost $6 million and take 18 months to complete.
It would be possible to implement both plans through a team of experts with diverse expertise, including landfill excavation, waste management, and data extraction. A company named OnTrack – which recovered 99 percent of the data from the black box of the Columbia space shuttle – provided advice to Howells as well.
After excavating the garbage, Howells plans to clean and recycle as much as possible, while burying the remainder. There has even been discussion among his team about constructing a solar or wind power plant on top of the landfill site. There is a desire to minimize the impact on the environment, but whether or not this will convince authorities to approve the operation remains to be seen.
It is also possible that Howells will use part of the funds to give £50 to every Newport resident if the operation is successful. It is up to him to wait for the official response and hope it will be favorable for now.