Bitcoin, released to the world in 2009 by a person or people called Satoshi Nakamoto, is not backed by a central bank or a government and is seen as an alternative payment system. In February 2013, Bitcoin went into the mainstream as a monetary crisis threatened to bankrupt Cyprus, seen as a safer bet. Early adopters of Bitcoin have been richly rewarded as the price has soared – in one case, a young Norwegian bought a house from an $850,000 windfall on a US$22 investment.
Hong Kong to get world's second bitcoin ATM, say makers
Danny Lee and Joanna Chiu
The bitcoin revolution is shifting to the east, say the Americans behind the world's first cash machine for the virtual currency, as they prepare to open a second one - in Hong Kong.
Robocoin's second teller machine could be ready for business by the end of this month, in time to take advantage of strong interest in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year.
Hong Kong beat off stiff competition from New York and Singapore, said Robocoin chief executive Jordan Kelley. There was so much enthusiasm for bitcoin in Asia that establishing a presence in the region was vital, he said.
"I think Hong Kong is a very progressive environment," Kelley said. "The government takes a progressive approach to emerging technologies, and it is important to get something going in the Asian economies."
The project will involve a partnership with "savvy entrepreneurs and smart businessmen who are very well connected and very well established," he said.
Citing confidentiality of the talks, the Robocoin chief said his company was looking at "several" different locations in Hong Kong to install the machine.
First-time buyers of bitcoin will find it considerably easier to speculate and invest using an ATM. A lengthy registration process is required for online bitcoin exchanges, forcing customers to wait days to buy coins for the first time. Using a bitcoin ATM, registration can take just five minutes.
"It removes a whole barrier of entry for the masses," said Kelley. "Our goal is to make buying and selling bitcoin friendly."
After the frenzied opening of the world's first bitcoin cash machine in a Vancouver coffee shop in October, more than C$1 million (HK$7.29 million) worth of transactions were conducted in less than a month.
Robocoin chose Hong Kong to launch the second ATM because of its strong links to Vancouver, Kelley said.
Bitcoin emerged in 2009 as a low-cost way of sending money electronically without third parties. It is not regulated by a central bank. There are currently more than 11 million bitcoins in circulation, which can be bought and sold via online exchanges or "mined" using computers.
Watch: What's Bitcoin and how does it work?
An earlier version of this article stated that Robocoin was run by Canadians. They are in fact an American company. We apologise for the error.