Bitcoin ATMs Come to America

- - Adam Kidan

A Robocoin kiosk.

People have been talking a lot about Bitcoin, the mysterious new digital currency that has started to make its presence felt around the world.  However, according to a recent article, Bitcoin will soon be coming to new high-tech kiosks, that allow people to buy the virtual coins and/or exchange them for cash.  According to Robocoin, the Las Vegas-based company that makes these machines, they should be coming to Seattle and Austin, Texas within the next month.

These are going to be the very first of these ATMs in the United States.  Robocoin has already installed such machines in Vancouver, and additional ones in Canada, Europe and Asia should be coming soon.  While Bitcoin is currently extremely popular amongst web-centric circles, it currently isn’t backed by any bank or government, and has no physical assets to prop up its value.  However, according to both Robocoin and Bitcoin itself, these machines are a step towards legitimizing Bitcoin to mainstream consumers.

Bitcoin has fluctuated in value since originally being created in 2009.  At the moment, the value of a single Bitcoin is about $636; in December, it was as high as $1,000 as investors began taking interest in the currency.  Businesses are starting to accept Bitcoin, although they remain low in number.  However, Bitcoin’s “anonymous” nature has led to its being used for shady purposes.  Bitcoin and other digital currencies have been used for underground websites that sell illegal merchandise.  Last week, the owners of the website Silk Road, where you can buy illegal drugs, announced that hackers had taken $2.7 million worth of Bitcoin from them.  Several other online Bitcoin exchanges were taken down after hackers started exploiting flaws to create transactions.

Robocoin wants their machines to help the currency effectively combat its negative reputation, even though this would alienate many Bitcoin users, who appreciate the currency’s anonymous nature.  To create an account with Robocoin, a user has to enter their phone number at a kiosk.  The machine then sends a code to that phone and, once the user enters the code, they scan the palm of their hand.  As the CEO explains, somebody’s phone is their user ID and their palm is their password.  The user then has to enter a government-issued ID, providing Robocoin a chance to verify the user’s name against government watch lists.  After that, the user takes a photo at the kiosk, which must be verified as a match with the picture on their ID card.  After their account has been verified, Robocoin users are free to buy Bitcoins at the kiosk.