My experience with the various Bitcoin ATMs (Robocoin, Lamassu, Bitcoin Briefcase)

I wrote this piece on 2013 10 30 on /r/Bitcoin. I figure it is a decent writeup, so might as well post it here.

So this month I got the chance to interact with various Bitcoin ATMs - I played a bit with Robocoin today, and tested out Lamassu and the Bitcoin Briefcase during Money2020 event. So here are my thoughts on them as well as some other information people are interested in.

So first of all, Robocoin. It's the only one of those that both sells and purchases Bitcoin. The process is a bit cumbersome to start (having to scan your hand a few times to create an account and wait a few minutes for a mechanical turk to verify that it's in fact the right hand and so forth), but after that it's pretty straightforward.

Some people were concerned about the palm scanner (both online and at the location). The developers of the ATM explained that they need to do that since they need to limit one person from buying more than $3k worth per day so they don't fall under AML regulations. They had a choice of scanning your ID, or fingerprints or the palm and they chose the last one since there isn't a database for palms that would link that scan to your identity. Given the restrictions they had to work with, I don't think that was a bad choice. At the same time I know a lot of people are very security conscious and would rather avoid that altogether - both sides of the argument have their fair points.

I talked a bit with the developers of Robocoin as well as listened in to one of my friends ask them some interesting questions about security and other things. All in all I must say they came off as very competent people. They know their technical things, as well as various regulatory issues (for example apparently if someone prints a paper wallet on the machine, loads it up and then sells / gives it to someone else that's creating a derivative market and technically you shouldn't be doing that).

As for the machine itself, I would say it's a little crude at the moment. Since it has so many widgets, scanners and so forth it's easy to get lost in the process of using it. I definitely would like it refined over a few iterations. Other than that, it does everything you'd expect it to do - you can load up your phone wallet through QR scanner, create a paper wallet on the spot if you don't have a wallet yet, and you can buy and sell bitcoins as needed.

Apparently the ATM does Bitstamp rate +3% (I might be wrong about the exact exchange, but I know it's not the Canadian VirtEx, since they were quite unresponsive in communicating with the developers). While the rate might not be that great in comparison to some other ways of getting BTC, but in Canada it's not entirely unreasonable with VirtEx charging pretty high fees by itself.

So overall, Robocoin is an interesting ATM with some good developers behind it, but it needs some more work put in to streamline the experience.

Now about the other two ATMs.

Lamassu is a bit of opposite of Robocoin. It has a small and elegant form factor, has just a camera QR scanner, a deposit slot and a display monitor. You can only buy bitcoins with it. Since it has limited options on what it does, the process is quite straightforward - put money in, scan address and send bitcoins. I don't know how they will be handling the AML regulations - it will be an interesting thing to see what their approach will be once they start releasing their ATM into the wild.

Bitcoin Briefcase has neither the elegant form of a Lamassu nor the versatility of Robocoin, but it's a fun little hack to carry around to get people interested in Bitcoin. It only takes change and pays out into a paper wallet it prints. It has a small display bar, a slot to put coins in, a wallet printer and a button to accept your purchase. It's not really a tool for frequent Bitcoin purchases, but definitely an interesting prop to bring along with to introduce people to Bitcoin easily.

So overall, it's really interesting to see what is being developed in this space. Robocoin is a big machine that might not fit everywhere, so it needs it's own dedicated space in some Bitcoin-accepting business. Lamassu is elegant and small enough to be placed on some extra bit of counter space available. The Briefcase is a neat hack that you can take wherever you go.