Lamassu's Bitcoin Machine isn't exactly a Bitcoin ATM -- instead, it's designed to enable one-way exchanges only: cash to bitcoins.
But, for now, that's good enough in a world where changing fiat currency into the digital stuff is still a complicated, circuitous process that's not easily available to everyone.
"(T)he core intention is to simplify obtaining bitcoins," says Zach Harvey, one of the three people behind Lamassu Bitcoin Ventures, which plans to roll out the machines starting this summer.
The other two founders are Zach's brother, Josh Harvey, and Matt Whitlock, a network security expert and software/hardware engineer. It might seem like a bit of an unlikely trio -- prior to Lamassu, the Harvey brothers owned guitar stores -- but Josh Harvey has a background in software engineering, and the brothers have been Bitcoin enthusiasts for longer than many people ... since 2010.
Zach says Bitcoin's a great solution to the troubles of doing business with cash (messy, needs physical counting and storage, easy to steal) and credit cards (high fees, "major fraud issues," chargebacks and risk of theft) ... if people can easily access the digital currency.
"However," he continues, "if Bitcoin is hard to obtain and difficult to use, its advantages aren't relevant to small businesses."
Zach says that, just as BitPay delivers "an amazing solution to the payment side," Lamassu aims to provide "the solution to customers obtaining bitcoins."
He was in San Jose last weekend for Bitcoin 2013, and notes, "the convention was great."
While on display at the conference, "our machine processed about 25,000 USD over the weekend," he adds.
Zach says his company's machine promises to deliver advantages over other, similar devices. Rather than modify the design of a legacy ATM, the way some Bitcoin businesses have done, he says, Lamassu built the Bitcoin Machine "from the ground up to utilize the speed and simplicity of the Bitcoin protocol."
The Lamassu device is also more portable than other machines.
"Ours is about a sixth of the size of any other Bitcoin dispenser, and is easily shipped anywhere in the world," he says. That will probably prove handy late this summer, when the company plans to ship its first 10 to 20 machines. The most likely destinations at the moment: Canada, the UK, Argentina, South Africa, Israel and Australia.
Rather than selling licenses or charging software or franchise fees for the Bitcoin Machine, Lamassu plans to sell the devices outright. Zach adds the price of the machines will also be "considerably lower" than for other devices on the market.
While the company is currently focused just on cash-to-bitcoins, it does plan to design a bitcoins-to-cash one in the future, Zach says.
"Bitcoin to cash is trickier due to development, size, price, Bitcoin security and regulatory issues," he says.
For now, just offering an easier way to obtain bitcoins is a good start. Zach says he found plenty of interest in the machine while attending Bitcoin 2013.
"Talking to interested parties from all parts of the world, we realized how universal the need for our Bitcoin Machine really is," he says. "In fact, there are countries that simply have little or no access to online exchanges, such as Argentina and South Africa. I also realized that other countries are a lot closer to reaching an understanding with their governments, such as Canada and Great Britain, and that the US may be late to the Bitcoin party (and not in a fashionably late cool kind of way)."
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