Early prototypes of ATMs dispensing Bitcoin first appeared about a year ago: put dollars in, and the machine will transfer you the equivalent amount in virtual currency, minus a fee. We first heard stories of such an ATM in Cyprus, then we saw two first-generation models at the Bitcoin 2013 convention in May. At Def Con, we glimpsed one in the form of a briefcase that accepted physical coins and printed out a QR code to redeem the digital ones.
More ATM-like Bitcoin machines have sprung up since then, and all these machines are now coming online. This is progress for the Bitcoin movement because it makes it so convenient to pick up some of the currency. One of the early — if not the earliest — examples of a Bitcoin ATM is Lamassu Inc's The Bitcoin Machine.
Lamassu started as a Bitcoin security company, but pivoted into building these virtual coin dispensers. The company has shipped about 130 machines in multiple countries from Canada to Kyrgyzstan. The operator collects the cash once it's set up, just like an ATM. The machines cost $5,000 apiece, with discounts for bulk orders.
Founder-brothers Zach and Josh Harvey attend a lot of trade shows and media events these days, lugging the 100-pound machine around in a heavy-duty padded box. The Harveys came to Las Vegas to present at a startup event at CES. We caught up with Zach, who is CEO, in order to demonstrate the machine and talk about the state of the Bitcoin economy.