Bitcoin automated teller machiness will soon become available in the U.S., potentially increasing the customer base for businesses that accept the digital currency.
Robocoin, a Las Vegas-based startup, announced on Tuesday that it will install the first ATMs in the U.S. in Seattle and Austin by the end of February--eroding a major barrier to the virtual currency's mainstream adoption.
The company installed the first two Bitcoin ATMs in the world last year in Vancouver and London. It plans to install additional machines this month in Asia, Canada, and, Europe, Reuters reports.
According to the wire service, the kiosks are similar to conventional cash ATMs, but instead of reading debit cards the machines scan government-issued identification cards like driver's licenses or passports to confirm users' identities.
Users will be able to exchange Bitcoin for cash, as well as to deposit cash to buy Bitcoin. To transfer and hold funds, users need to have a virtual wallet on their smartphone.
It's still difficult for the average user to buy, sell, and use Bitcoin. But as startups race to make the virtual currency easier to use and popular e-commerce sites like Overstock.com--which has recorded $1 million in Bitcoin sales--start accepting it, wide adoption may be within sight.
Scott Robinson, the founder of the Sunnyvale, California-based Plug and Play Bitcoin Accelerator, says the Bitcoin ecosystem today is in a similar state to the Internet's infrastructure when it was being built two decades ago.
"In more than one way, this is entirely paralleled to the Internet in the 1990s," Robinson says. "If you can, remember how hard it was to just connect to the Internet in 1993: Set up an Internet provider account, buy a dial-up modem, download a browser, use the browser to find a search engine, or go straight to AOL's homepage."
The news of Bitcoin ATMs in the U.S. comes after a hectic period for the virtual currency, with one of the largest exchanges, Mt. Gox, freezing withdrawals due to a security breach. The price of Bitcoin plummeted from nearly $850 early in February to less than $580 on February 14. As of Tuesday morning, Bitcoin is hovering around $620.