Bitcoin ATMs Arrive in Los Angeles! Part Two, Hands-On
One of our Spelunkin field reporters, Rob Mitchell, was good enough to give us a thorough review of the first Bitcoin ATMs in Los Angeles. In Part One, he gave us an overview of the event and in Part Two, here, he now covers the details of actually using the machine. For Part Three, we will bring you an interview with the CEO of ZenBox, Cailen Sullivan, and Locali Co-Founder, Melissa Rosen
Part one of my Bitcoin ATM experience gave an overview of the Bitcoin ATM and its deployment at Locali in Venice, California. In this part, I document the details of using the Bitcoin ATM in every way I could think of to do so. For the most part, I quote exactly what I saw on the ATM screen – including capitalization and punctuation. Note that I benefitted from having Cailen Sullivan, the CEO of ZenBox who owns the machine, available to help me with any issues or questions.
Registering to use a Robocoin Bitcoin ATM
When you walk up to the ATM, you’ll find it always lists these three options on the touchscreen:
Regardless of which option you select, next it says: “Select Your Country and Enter Your Cell Phone Number”. As shown in the photo, “US” is pre-selected on a drop-down menu.
What appears on the next screen depends on if you have set up an account yet on any Robocoin ATM. If it is your first time, you are sent a text message to your cell phone which I received instantly. It said: “Robocoin cell phone verification code: 89753”. You enter the code into the ATM to continue after which the next screen says: “Create a new PIN.” Note: I was told by Cailen to enter a 4-digit numeric password as the palm scanner is the secure ID metric, basically using “something you have” rather than “something you know.”
Next screen: “Type in your PIN again.”
Then comes the palm scan screen: “Welcome! Scan and remove your hand 4 time to sign-up”
After four successful palm scans, the next screen says: “Great! Now, take a picture of yourself.” Here you see yourself on the screen, as though you are using a webcam or photobooth. Click the “Take Picture” button on the screen when you’re looking wonderful (or acceptable, in my case).
Now it is time to match a Government ID to your biometrics, photo, and cell phone number. Gathering this “Know Your Customer” information is necessary to be regulatory-compliant. This screen says: “Finally, place your government photo ID in the scanner” Note: The “scanner” is a standard credit/debit card slot you insert your card into. So if you think you can do this with a passport, you are out of luck.
Then you see a screen that says: “Your Robocoin application is now being processed. Come back in 5 minutes.”
About the same time, I also received a text message that said: “Your Robocoin Application is under review and you will be notified in about 5 minutes when it’s ready. Thank you!”
I sat down and ate some of my deli order (a veggie Ruben sandwich), and in 5 minutes, I received a text saying: “Your application has been approved! You are now free to use Robotcoin kiosks around the world.”
Other uses of the Robocoin ATM – Buying and Selling Bitcoin
Bitcoin to USD
First I wanted to test getting dollars for a paper Bitcoin wallet I had made and funded with 0.1 BTC awhile ago. The first time I tried, the attempt was halted by a screen saying, “The market cannot be contacted right now. We are sorry for the inconvenience – try again later. Contact support for help at [specific Expresscoin email address].”
After a few minutes the issue cleared up, so again I began at the startup screen. I selected “Sell Bitcoin.” and I was asked to enter my cell phone number and then my PIN.
After doing so, I came to a new screen that said: “Welcome back! Scan your hand to log-in Place your right hand.”
After the quick palm scan, I was in! There is no need to carry a card or ID to use this ATM after the initial registration.
I was given the option to sell Bitcoin but only in $20 denominations. I was thrown off by this at first, expecting to enter the amount of my paper wallet in BTC. However, the amount in my wallet was not divisible by 20, and a non-intuitive aspect of Bitcoin is that one really needs to empty all funds from – or “sweep” – a paper wallet in one transaction. Seeing this limit in practice is why these hands-on experiences are so important. Cailen informed me that this Robocoin ATM was currently loaded with $100 and $20 dollar bills but it could have been loaded with $20 and $1 dollar bills. Since I could not sweep my wallet, I opted to not redeem my paper wallet.
Next I tried using my Blockchain.info wallet as the source of Bitcoin to buy dollars. I have a version of the Blockchain.info wallet on my iPhone that pre-dates Apple’s ban on Bitcoin apps, but I figured it was safest to just log in to my Blockchain.info wallet on my mobile web browser and use a QR code scanner to copy and paste any QR codes to the my mobile wallet.
I repeated the Robocoin login process (phone number, PIN, palm scan), and then came to a screen where you set the sell amount. It listed the price of 1 bitcoin (net of 5% fee), a transaction limit ($2160 for me that day – I don’t know where this number comes from), and a way to select the amount of Bitcoin you want to sell, in $20 increments. The Bitcoin value of the USD being withdrawn is shown at the bottom of the screen. In this case, it was 0.0358 BTC to return $20. Everything looked good, so I pressed the “Next” button.
A receipt with a QR code came out of the machine at the exact same time a QR code appeared on the screen. The text on the ATM screen said:
“Send your bitcoin to this address:
(scan the QR code with your bitcoin wallet)
Send .03584000 XBT to
1E6ro98upDW3hySyk7bFuqnf4wH2mXejKD in 3590 seconds.
INCLUDE A MINER’S FEE!”
and then there’s a button that says “Finish”
I felt unsure if I should scan the QR on the screen or the QR on the receipt, as I could see they were different. I correctly went with the QR on the screen, which gave me this text string: “bitcoin:1E6ro98upDW3hySyk7bFuqnf4wH2mXejKD?amount=0.03584000” That’s the real public key, so have fun exploring from it on the Bitcoin blockchain.
I rushed to copy and paste the information into my Blockchain wallet and hit the send button.
Now I stared at the screen and waited for something to happen. And waited… And still, nothing happened. After awhile, I figured I should press the “Finish” button. I did so and my session ended with the ATM displaying to the starting screen. My immediate reaction was “What the heck? Where’s my money!? What do I do now?” Fortunately, I had Cailen to help me and he explained that the QR code on my receipt was how I would get my $20. And this is what the “Redeem Ticket” option in the startup screen is for.
So I logged in again with the Redeem Ticket option, and the next screen said:
“Scan your Robocoin ticket
(Be sure that you’ve sent Bitcoin to the address)
Scan your Robocoin transaction number”
It took me a bit of searching to realize the glowing red light way below the right side of the screen was the bar code scanner. The scanner recognized the QR code very quickly when I held up the printed QR code, and the next screen said: “Press Withdraw to get your money! Amount $20”
Two buttons below that said “Cancel” and “Withdraw”. Pressing “Cancel” just logs you out. Pressing “Withdraw” either gives you your USD – in this case, a $20 bill, or this message pops-up: “This transaction has 0 out of 1 confirmations needed. You need to wait longer for the Bitcoin network to process the transaction. Contact support for help at [an email address at Expresscoin]” Needless to say, I saw this message and had to wait for a confirmation.
Using the QR I had scanned from the screen, I looked up the public key on Blockchain.info, and saw that it had registered a confirmation quickly enough. This made me glad that Blockchain.info automatically adds sufficient miner fees to make sure transactions are quickly processed. I also received a text message saying I could now withdraw $20 from the ATM.
While the number of confirmations is configureable by the operator, this machine is set for one confirmation regardless of the amount of the transaction. I hope that one day these ATMs might benefit from whatever Bitcoin blockchain analysis BitPay uses to confirm a transaction within seconds, well before a confirmation is accepted into the Blockchain.
After getting the cash, I received another text message with details of the transaction.
USD to Bitcoin
Lastly, I tried buying Bitcoin and found that I could buy as little as $1 worth.
Even if you’re doing multiple transactions, each time you start a new transaction, you start at the Buy, Sell, Redeem screen and go through the same login process – enter cell phone number, enter PIN, have your palm scanned. Then after pressing “Buy” the next screen says: “Scan your bitcoin address or generate a wallet.”
I wanted to leave with a paper wallet of sorts, so I chose “Generate Wallet.”
The ATM immediately printed a private key in QR and text formats on a small piece of paper, which you can take without putting in any cash. This is an unfunded paper wallet of sorts, but no public key is displayed, so it’s not very useful for most people. Cailen let me know that there are some configurable options with the ATM’s software and hopefully he can make the change to include the public key QR on the paper too. This would allow people to easily verify the funded amount by simply scanning the public key QR.
When you remove the ticket, the next screen comes on that says:
“Price of 1 bitcoin” in USD
It says “$0” in the center of the screen until you insert cash. As you do so, that number updates to reflect the total cash inserted. You can keep inserting bills until you are done. Bring crisp bills if you can and I was told inserting the bills face-up works best. Once you are done, you press the “finish” button on the screen. I did not see a way to cancel, so once you put the cash in there it seems you are committed to the transaction.
Once you finish inserting your money, the screen says: “Success! Your bitcoin is on the way.” and “0.00161651 XBT [in my case] will be sent to 18CiqR1mHttWJwkXgoF5tVnFnqpJcxSMDc.” Again, this is the actual public key for my transaction if want to look it up on the Bitcoin blockchain.
Since the public key is not printed on the paper receipt you may want to snap a photo of this last screen so you will have a copy of the public key associated with the wallet. It is not absolutely necessary to do this unless you want to check the transaction on the Bitcoin blockchain, or if you want to use the receipt as a paper wallet and add more funds to it in the future.
Finally you get a receipt with a transaction number that matches the transaction number listed on the first receipt with the private key.
Now that was kicking the tires!
For more information about Bitcoin ATMs, check out the Bitcoin 2014 conference panel on Bitcoin ATMs.