Bitcoins, now valued at over $200 a piece, were seen as the currency of the black market, back when the website Silk Road was still up and running.
But there are many people who want to cast off its shady past and make it a legitimate currency. Robocoin, a company based in Nevada, is looking to make that happen by installing the first bitcoin ATMs on Tuesday at a Waves Coffee House in Vancouver, Canada.
Because the bitcoin currency itself is distributed among all of its users, there is no centralized bitcoin bank. Instead, people buy and sell bitcoins by visiting websites, finding a user willing to sell them some bitcoins, and then directly wiring them money. But new buyers are left waiting until their money transfer is cleared, a couple of days, before they actually see the bitcoins appear in their wallet. The same applies to sellers looking to cash out, but having to wait for their payment to arrive.
Jordan Kelley, CEO of Robocoin, said that the ATMs are making those money transfers much quicker. "People need to be able to get some of their money out," he told ABC News. "Our customers can walk up to a machine and buy and sell bitcoins for cash."
The Robocoin kiosk first verifies customers' identities by scanning their palm prints. Customers can then feed cash into the machine to deposit as bitcoins, or withdraw bitcoins from their electronic wallet and get physical cash. Instead of waiting around a couple of days, the process only takes a couple of minutes.
Though Robocoin makes the machinery responsible for doling out cash, it's up to bitcoin enthusiasts to actually make them available to the public. Mitch Demeter, a bitcoin broker who co-founded Bitcoiniacs, said that he was impressed with Robocoin's machines. "The ATMs are basically our store in a box," he said. "We bought five in total and we're spreading them across Canada."
Bitcoins are also accepted by businesses in the United States, but the government itself is hesitant to welcome them into the American marketplace. "The United States requires more licensing to operate," said Kelley. "The barrier to entry isn't as low as it is in Canada."
Kelley has also said that Robocoin machines are compliant with both federal and state laws. "For Canadian customers, we've set a transaction limit of $3,000 per day," he said. "You can't just put in or take out a million dollars."
"People need to be able to get some of their money out."
Though bitcoins still aren't universally accepted, their popularity is growing. Demeter regularly hosts meet-ups for the bitcoin community, including those that want to buy and sell coins, as well as businesses that are interested in accepting them as payment. "Lots of restaurants and coffee shops accept it," he said. "Even a gym and a landscaping company take it. It's a good sign."
As for whether the ATM itself would actually be used, Robocoin said that its first kiosk saw 81 transactions during the first day of operation on Tuesday, totaling over $10,000. And it's not just the diehard bitcoin users that used it.
"Over one-third of customers were bitcoin newcomers," the company said in a statement.