Converting the cash in your wallet to Bitcoin is one of the biggest hurdles to getting some skin in the digital crypto currency game. Time was when you had to meet a scruffily-dressed Bitcoin owner in person, at a corner street cafe, to get your hands on a few Bitcoins. Bitcoin’s times are changing though.
Startup Lamassu Bitcoin Ventures is aiming to simplify the process with its Bitcoin ATM machine (left). It’s showing off a prototype of its tablettop-sized ATM at the Bitcoin London conference taking place today. Its snappy tagline is ‘fiat to Bitcoin in 15 seconds’ — and in keeping with that promise the process is designed to be as simple as possible. And simplicity means accepting cash only — no card payments — to avoid having to deal with banks, says co-founder Zach Harvey.
“With our Bitcoin machine… you don’t need the bank’s approval to start running these Bitcoins machines. You only need cash,” he told the Bitcoin London conference today.
In keeping with the nascent Bitcoin ecosystem, the first prototype of the machine was only created in the founders’ garage back in February.
The machine has a touchscreen to step the depositor through the process; a camera for scanning their Bitcoin QR code where they want the exchanged currency deposited (the machine displays the current exchange rate on the front); and a slot for feeding bank notes into the ATM, which they say will support multiple currencies. Once the depositor has put their paper money in, the appropriate amount of Bitcoins are delivered to the Bitcoin address linked to the scanned QR code. The system takes around 10 to 20 minutes before the transaction is confirmed, according to other co-founder, Josh Harvey.
Harvey says Lamassu is planning to distribute the ATM machines globally – “ all around the world” — kicking off production at the end of August, for fall shipment. Where are the ATMs going to be situated exactly? Wherever buyers believe there is a Bitcoin demand they can tap in to – whether that’s inside a shopping mall with a high volume of people passing through or a small retailer that already accepts Bitcoin and wants to encourage more of its customers to start using the currency.
The startup is not going to be taking any kind of cut on the currency exchange itself – rather it plans to make a profit on the hardware units, which will sell for $4,000-$5,000 apiece. Likewise, it’s not selling Bitcoin support services around the machine — “we’re keeping out of that because of the regulatory issues,” says Josh. The startup stresses that buyers need to be sure the machine complies with any local financial regulations that might apply to Bitcoin.
Developing countries are one obvious target for the Bitcoin ATM, owing to the millions of people who still don’t have traditional bank accounts. “Once people know that all they need to do is use a kiosk to do their banking, why do they need banks?” added Zach. “You can jump over the old technology of banking systems.”
So while the payment giants and card companies are doing their best — via the likes of contactless payment technology — to kill off cash and funnel more transactions through their own centralised payment infrastructure, startups like Lamassu suggest cash could still play a role in a future currency mix, as Bitcoin’s hassle-free sidekick.