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Valley's first Bitcoin ATM opens at MV's Hacker Dojo

Is it a big gamble or a real step into our collective future? Either way, Mountain View is now home to Silicon Valley's first ATM dealing with the notorious digital currency known as Bitcoin.

"Bitcoin has long been discussed as a possible currency of the future, but has been criticized for its lack of accessibility for lay people," said Brian Rouch, Hacker Dojo's executive director. He said that the community space for computer programmers is "attempting to help cross this divide" by housing the machine.

The ATM now it sits in Hacker Dojo's well-lit lobby at 599 Fairchild Dr. under a security camera, and is accessible 24/7. The machine had its debut in Mountain View on March 20 at the 500 Startups "Bitcoinference" at 444 Castro Street.

The Bitcoin ATM isn't your typical ATM. You may be greeted by a person standing next to the machine, there to answer questions. It uses "biometric authentication" which means that along with your government I.D. and a personal identification number, you will have to let the machine take a print of your palm and a scan of your face.

Coinage, LLC, is the operator of the machine. Coinage president Cary Peters said people may find it a convenient way to instantly send cash, and to buy or cash out Bitcoins if you chose that gamble, which Peters warns isn't unlike investing in the stock market.

"It's a true two-way, cash-in, cash-out machine," says Peters of the ATM machine It's manufactured by Las Vegas-based Robocoin, which has already installed machines in Vancouver and Singapore, among a few other places around the world.

With news about crime rings using Bitcoin to send money anonymously, Peters said, "We are very focused on making sure we have met all government standards," including those for money laundering.

Hacker Dojo representatives acknowledged this concern as well, stating, "Coinage complies with best practices from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S Dept. of the Treasury and adheres to industry leading Anti-Money Laundering and Know Your Customer standards."

Peter says there is no cheaper or faster way to send cash around the world, claiming that it can be done in seconds with a fee of 3 to 4 percent, exchanging the currency to cash useable in another country in the process.

"A man here can send $100 back home to his mom in India without paying a (relatively large) fee to the Western Unions of the world or Paypal. To do that in three or four seconds with a 3 to 4 percent fee, is a big deal."

There's a lot of debate about the value of Bitcoin as a currency, most notably between billionaire investor Warren Buffett and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. Buffett has advised investors to "stay away" from Bitcoin as an investment, though he says the technology may be valuable as a way to transfer money, while Andreessen has defended its use as a currency vehemently, using a technical argument that can't be easily summarized.

"It's not something for the person who is living month-to-month and doesn't have money to risk in a high-risk asset," Peters said. "It could go to zero, it could go to $500,000, no one knows."

He notes that gold and other metals used as currency have also had volatile prices at times.

For those that do want to take the investment gamble in Bitcoin, the ATM makes it convenient.

Peters said it took him four days to buy his first Bitcoin online. "The robo-kiosk facilitates buying Bitcoin in five minutes."

Because of the "freethinking" crowd there, Mountain View's Hacker Dojo seemed like the best place for the first Bitcoin ATM in California, Peters says. He anticipates the existence of a "Bitcoin University" -- regular meet-up events about Bitcoin for people to share ideas and learn about its use.

Mountain View may not be the last Silicon Valley city of have such an ATM.

"I would certainly think you could have it in every city here (in Silicon Valley), every 10 miles or so," Peters said.

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