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ATMs raise Bitcoin profile, concerns

WASHINGTON -- Even if you aren't sure what a Bitcoin is, you may soon find them at a nearby machine.

The first Bitcoin ATMs are cropping up in North America, enabling consumers to swap cash for units of the crypto-currency, or cash in their Bitcoins. ATMs are coming in Europe and Asia as well.

The machines could allow Bitcoins, generated by a complex computer algorithm designed in 2009, to move out of the realm of geeks to the broader public.

The U.S. startup Robocoin, after unveiling its first ATM in Vancouver last year, announced plans to begin operating a machine in Austin, Texas, on Thursday. It also plans to open one in Seattle, Washington, ahead of a wider global launch.

“We have completely removed the barriers for people to buy and sell Bitcoins,” Robocoin chief executive Jordan Kelley told AFP.

“You no longer have to wait days, you don't have to provide your bank account.”

Kelley said Robocoin provides the only “bi-directional” Bitcoin ATMs, meaning that consumers can either buy or sell the digital currency.

Robocoin provides the hardware, made in the United States, to local operators, who must get certification from state and federal authorities and comply with anti-money laundering rules.

Operators around the world will also need certification in the countries where they operate, Kelley said.

“We were built to be fully compliant (with finance regulations) globally,” he said.

Kelley declined to provide the number of orders for the ATMs, saying only, “We have a lot.” He said the company is awaiting certification for its shipments to locations in Europe and Asia.

'Incredible idea'

The Robocoin ATMs perform a biometric scan of each user's palm, as well as take a facial photo, which is matched to the user's government-issued identity card. The system also runs a check to determine if the user is a wanted criminal or terror suspect.

“We provide a profile of the customer that gives our operators full visibility and trackability,” Kelley said.

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Adam Soltys, co-founder of a Bitcoin cooperative, swaps Canadian currency for Bitcoins using the world's first ATM able to exchange Bitcoins for any official currency at a new bitcoin ATM installed at the Waves coffee shop in downtown Vancouver, Canada on Oct. 29, 2013. (AFP)

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