Digital Life

Canberra latest addition to bitcoin boom with high-tech ATM

At first glance it looks like any other ATM but Canberra is now home to a fingerprint-reading, face-scanning teller, after a bitcoin machine began operation at the Canberra Centre on Saturday. 

Installers say the ATM – the third in Australia after Sydney and Melbourne – will allow people to cash in or out of the the digital currency and quickly set up an account. 

ABA Technology director Robert Masters said the ATM in the second floor food court would allow a new user to create an account within three to six minutes, instead of waiting weeks for verification using a home computer.

"It's done firstly by setting a phone number,'' Mr Masters said. ''It will send you a pin, you verify the pin, [and] it will then ask you for a fingerprint and ID scan.''  

ABA Technology operates the ATMs and plans to introduce 100 across Australia by the end of next year, he said.

Bitcoins are a virtual currency that are transferable through a digital wallet program installed on a person's computer or mobile device.

Mr Masters, 30, said its beauty was in its decentralised nature.

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"You can send money directly across the globe with no fees, it's instantly traceable and secure, and there's no bank or Western Union (type) intermediaries," he said. 

Several cafes in Canberra accept the currency, as do ACTION Buses, with websites including eBay and Expedia also on board.

"There's over 300 [connected] merchants Australia-wide and over 25,000 worldwide," Mr Masters said. 

Computer giant Dell announced last week it would accept bitcoins for purchases from its website, reportedly becoming the largest corporation to trade with the currency, which began publicly in 2009.

There are a reported 13 million bitcoins in circulation, although Forbes said this year more than 90 per cent were hoarded as an investment. 

One bitcoin was valued at less than $50 early last year, rose to above $1200 by December and is now priced at about $670. 

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