A silver and blue ATM, perched up next to the espresso bar in a trendy Vancouver coffee shop, could launch a new era for the digital currency bitcoin, offering an almost instant way to exchange the world's leading virtual money for cash.
The value of a bitcoin soared from $13 in January to a high of $266 in April as more businesses and consumers used them to buy and sell online. Some investors are also treating bitcoins like gold, using them to hedge against currency fluctuations and speculating on their rise.
The kiosk, which looks like the average ATM but with hand and barcode scanners, opened for business on Tuesday and by mid-morning people were lined up to swap their bitcoins for cash, or to deposit cash to buy more bitcoins.
"It's as easy as walking up to a machine, scanning your hand, entering some cash and buying bitcoin," said Jordan Kelley, chief executive of Las Vegas-based Robocoin, the company that builds the ATMs. "With this, it's a 2-minute process. For any online exchange, it's at least two days."
Bitcoins, currently worth about $210 each, can be transferred without going through banks or clearing houses, thereby cutting fees.
Users can buy products and services online or in a handful of stores, including the Waves coffee shop where the ATM is.
Text: Julie Gordon, Reuters