Three high school buddies from a tiny Canadian town say that they will flip the switch on the world’s first bitcoin ATM next week. It will operate near the entrance of a downtown Vancouver coffee house.
Built by a Nevada company called Robocoin, the machine will trade bitcoins for cash and vice versa. Bitcoin is the world’s most popular digital currency, and it exists only on the internet, but it can be traded for traditional dollars and euros. Though bitcoin began as niche technology embraced mostly by internet geeks, it is gradually spreading not only to everyday people, but into the everyday world.
To buy bitcoins with the Robocoin ATM, you need to do a palm scan and then stuff the machine with as much as 3,000 Canadian dollars per day (roughly US$2,900). The machine then makes a trade on Canada’s VirtEx exchange and moves them into your online bitcoin wallet. The palm scan is to prevent people from doing more than $3,000 worth of transactions, as that would run afoul of Canada’s anti-money-laundering laws, says Mitchell Demeter, one of the Robocoin’s new owners.
A Bitcoin 2013 Conference attendee withdraws about $2,000 from the Robocoin. Photo: Robert McMillan
Demeter is co-founder of a Vancouver bitcoin trading company called Bitcoiniacs. He and two high school friends from Sechelt, British Columbia, set up shop in central Vancouver a few months ago, with the idea of building a series of bitcoin exchange shops across Canada. Then they heard about the Robocoins. “They’re basically our store, but automated,” he says.
Demeter and his partners paid more than $90,000 — $18,500 each — for five Robocoin ATMs and are hoping to place them in other locations throughout Canada. The one that goes live next week will be the first permanent installation of a bitcoin ATM, according to Jordan Kelley, Robocoin’s CEO. “The regulations right now in the United States are a pretty decent barrier to entry for any operator,” he says.
The coffee shop is owned by a 53-year-old schoolteacher named Judy Fujiki who, until this summer, had never heard of bitcoin. Now she’s an avid investor — a bitcoiniac, if you will. Waves is home to a regular bitcoin meetup, where you can find people who will swap cash for bitcoins. And you can buy a latte at the bar using the digital currency too.
Fujiki says that teachers aren’t really known for being on the ground floor of investment trends, but she’s been buying bitcoins lately (her colleagues at school are “horrified” by her investments). And she’s happy to have whatever walk-in traffic the machine generates. “I feel that I have always missed the boat,” she says. “But now I am glad to be given the opportunity be a pioneer in this.”
WIRED first saw the Robocoin in demo operation on the show floor of a San Jose, California, bitcoin conference this spring, but given the regulatory climate in the U.S., nobody has yet managed to operate one full time.
It’s not exactly clear what the Canadian regulators think of the Robocoin. Demeter says he hasn’t received specific guidance about his business from Canada’s regulator (a agency called the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada), but he believes that he’s complying with all regulations.
Bitcoins have been a wild speculative ride this year, jumping from $13 in January to over $250 in the spring before crashing, and then rising up again. They currently trade for close to $200, but for many people, it can be slow and complicated for casual buyers to pick them up online.
In fact, many investors and enthusiasts find that a face-to-face meeting is the best way to buy and sell them. Now Robocoin is going to give them a brand new option.