Man tries to find $271 million of lost bitcoin with robot dogs and AI machines

The tip were Howells hopes to find his bitcoin
James Howells accidentally threw away the wrong hard drive and it ended up in this tip. Photo credit: Getty Images

A man who accidentally threw away bitcoin worth $271 million has a brand-new plan to get his missing cryptocurrency back.

Welshman James Howells had two hard drives, one of which was empty, the other with 8000 bitcoin he had mined on it.

In 2013 he intended to discard the blank one, but instead threw out the one chock-full of crypto - which ended up in the local dump.

Newport City Council has so far refused to allow him to dig in the dump for his lost fortune, saying it would be expensive and damaging to the environment.

But, according to an interview with Business Insider, Howells has concocted a new plan he hopes will finally be approved, involving $17.6 million in funding. Oh, and Boston Dynamics' robot dogs.

The proposal is backed by venture capital funding and he hopes the council will examine it in the next few weeks and allow him to search up to 110,000 tons of garbage for the missing drive.

The new plan might sound ridiculous, but Howells told Insider it was achievable through "a combination of human sorters, robot dogs, and an artificial-intelligence-powered machine trained to look for hard drives on a conveyor belt". It would take three years.

If the council denies him again, his second proposal - an 18-month project that would cost $9.6 million - would hopefully be agreed to, Howells said.

The former IT worker told Insider he had put together a team that featured eight experts, including one who worked for a company that recovered data from the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003.

The plan involves machines digging up the rubbish, with human pickers then going through it alongside the AI machine that will scan the conveyor belt.

A mechanical arm would then pick out any interesting object, Insider reported.

Security costs are a big part of the budget, with Howells fearing people may try to dig up the hard drive themselves.

Although only he has the passcode to unlock the crypostash, someone else could potentially hold it to ransom.

He's budgeted for 24/7 CCTV cameras as well as two robotic Spot dogs from Boston Dynamics that would function as mobile patrols at night.

During the day they'd be tasked with searching for anything that looks like a hard drive.

However, hopes aren't high that he'll be given permission even after he offered to build a solar or wind-energy farm on top of the dump once excavation was completed.

A council representative told Insider there was "nothing" that Howells could do that would make the council agree.

"His proposals pose significant ecological risk, which we cannot accept and indeed are prevented from considering by the terms of our permit."

Howells said if the needle in the haystack search goes ahead and he finds his drive, he'd keep around 30 percent of what was on there. A third would go to the recovery team, 30 percent to his investors and the rest to local causes.