Will an AI-powered Robotic Arm Help Find 7,500 Missing Bitcoin?

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  • IT developer James Howells, who accidentally discarded 7,500 bitcoin in 2013, plans to use an AI-powered mechanical arm to recover the hard drive from a landfill
  • Despite local council refusals due to safety concerns, Howells is taking the case to court, assembling a team of experts to employ AI and robot dogs for the recovery effort.
  • The haul is today worth $193 million

An IT developer who lost 7,500 bitcoin when he threw out a hard drive in 2013 is hoping to use mechanical arms powered by artificial intelligence to try and recover it from landfill. James Howells has been battling with his local council ever since to try and recover the hard drive, but the council has always refused on safety grounds. Now Howells hopes that his mechanical arms will alleviate those fears and is preparing to go to court to get permission to dig for the drive, whose contents would be worth $193 million.

Hard Drive Accidentally Discarded

Howells, from Newport, Wales, began mining Bitcoin on his laptop in 2009, acquiring 7,500 by the time he stopped in 2013. When he no longer needed the machine he broke it into its component parts and sold them, keeping hold of the drive containing the bitcoin.

However, during a house clean later that year he accidentally tossed the drive, which ended up in landfill. Howells initially ignored the mistake, but in 2017, with the price of Bitcoin rocketing, he stepped up efforts to obtain it, contacting the local council and asking to be able to search the landfill site. The council refused, saying that it was too dangerous, but Howells hasn’t given up. Instead, he is taking his battle to the courts.

As part of his outlandish plan, Howells has assembled a team of environmental health and data recovery experts who would utilise AI to operate a mechanical arm to sort through the recovered rubbish, with each piece then being sifted through by hand in a nearby tent in search of the drive. In an image of a dystopian future, robot dogs will be employed to make sure opportunistic thieves cannot steal the drive.

Council Staying Firm

There remains one huge stumbling block, however: Newport City Council. Howells has been rebuffed at every turn, even though he is paying for everything, and he has turned to legal representation to try and force through his plan.

If he recovers his lost millions, Howells aims to transform Newport into the UK’s first “crypto hub” and provide £50 in bitcoin to its 160,000 residents. Additionally, he envisions installing cryptocurrency point-of-sale devices in all independent Newport stores to cultivate a local crypto economy.

Mr. Howells’ legal team requested site access from the council on September 6, with Howell saying he will take the fight to the highest court in the country if needed. Newport City Council maintains that excavation is not possible under their environmental permit and would harm the environment. A response from the council is due by September 22.