What It's Like Using An ATM That Automatically Turns Your Cash Into Real Bitcoins

AUSTIN, Texas — If you want an instant way to turn your bitcoins into cash or vice versa, a Bitcoin ATM is one of your best bets. The Bitcoin ATM syncs with your Bitcoin wallet, letting you instantly transfer your cash to bitcoins or withdraw your bitcoins as cash.

We got to check out one of the devices at the South By Southwest Interactive conference. It was run by an independent Bitcoin agent named Mike Piri. Piri owns a company called My Local Bitcoin ATM and runs two of the machines in Austin. He takes a small fee (in Bitcoin, of course) of each transaction people make.

The device itself is made by a company called Robocoin, which sells the ATMs to people for a whopping $US25,000. Piri has one of his machines in a local bar here in Austin and another in a coffee shop. (He took the one out of the coffee shop this week so he could show it off at the conference.)

Here’s how it works:

First, select if you want to buy or sell Bitcoin. In this case, we’ll buy Bitcoin, which means turning cash into Bitcoin.

Next, you enter your cell number. This is the phone number tied to your Bitcoin wallet. The ATM can also send you a text message verification code if you don’t have a wallet. But this isn’t the last security step.

Now you enter your PIN. (You set up your PIN when you first create a Bitcoin ATM account.)

If you have a Bitcoin wallet on your phone, you can scan your unique QR code. You also have to scan your palm to verify your identity. This means even if someone has your PIN, cell number, and QR code, that person won’t be able to access your bitcoins unless you’re there in person to place your palm in the machine. In theory, it’s very secure.

Finally, you insert your cash. It’s instantly transferred into Bitcoin and added to your wallet. The ATM determines the worth of your new bitcoins using several different pricing sites. In this case, one bitcoin was worth about $US650.

And here’s the receipt for your records.

One downside: If you want to withdraw cash, it takes 15 to 20 minutes for the ATM to verify everything. It gives you a receipt with a QR code that you come back later and scan to get your cash.

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