AUSTIN (USA TODAY) - Bitcoin -- the virtual currency that has ignited the
imagination of techies, investigators and investors -- is coming to
On Thursday, organizers will unveil the USA's first Bitcoin
ATM machine, tucked in the backroom of a downtown Austin bar. And just
in time for SXSW, the three-week interactive/film/music conference that
begins Mar. 7.
Launched in 2009, Bitcoin is a decentralized
digital currency that is traded mostly online and person to person
rather than through banks. Started by programmers whose identity remains
anonymous, the cyber currency has been gaining popularity in the USA
and accepted as payment at scores of businesses.
The first Bitcoin
ATM was launched at a Vancouver coffeehouse last year. Austin, known
for its vibrant tech community as well as scores of music clubs, was a
natural spot to launch the first U.S. Bitcoin ATM, said Jordan Kelley,
chief executive of Robocoin, the Las Vegas-based company that makes the
"We're really excited about the community and culture
Austin has," he said. "And it's a fantastically central location. It's
right on the 50 yard line of the U.S."
The ATM will be located at
the Handlebar, a hipster hangout on East Fifth Street in Austin. The
machine will scan a user's palm print and government-issued ID to verify
identity then allow them to add money to a virtual Bitcoin "wallet" or
withdraw the currency to a mobile phone app, Kelley said.
machine will also perform a one-time face recognition scan to verify
users' identity. "All you need is your phone, your ID, your palm and
your face - all the things people carry with them on a daily basis," he
Bitcoin, which could be used to buy everything from steak
dinners to sporting event tickets, has had its share of controversy
Federal agents charged a Bitcoin dealer last month with
money laundering for allegedly selling more than $1 million worth of the
cyber currency to people on a black market website that deals with
drugs and illicit goods.
And last week hackers forced the shutdown
of Bitcoin's largest exchange service, Bitstamp, for several days. But
the popularity of the virtual currency continues to climb, trading at
more than $600, according to Bitcoin websites.
will only continue to surge, said Antonis Polemitis, manager partner of
Ledra Capital LLC, a New York-based venture capital firm investing in
Bitcoin-based companies. Bitcoin today is at the level where the
Internet was in 1994 or 1995, with 20 years of application in its
future, he said.
"It really allows people to interact with each
other to exchange value - whether it's currency or other types of assets
- without a central party in the middle," Polemitis said. "It's
Reza Piri, an Austin web developer and
entrepreneur, met with Kelley last month while on his bachelor party in
Las Vegas. After a morning meeting, he was purchasing two of the $25,000
machines and bringing them back to Austin. He plans to showcase one at
SXSW, when more than 30,000 tech attendees and industry leaders are
expected to descend into the city.
"Austin is perfect for this," Piri said. "We want to make [Bitcoin] mainstream and bring it to the people."