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Portable Bitcoin ATM expected to start swapping coins soon

The compact dispenser of virtual money will headline a Bitcoin conference in San Jose in May.

In two weeks, the world will be able to get its hands on the first ATM designed to dispense Bitcoin.

The maker of the Bitcoin Machine, Lamassu of Manchester, New Hampshire announced this week that it will show a production model of its money dispenser at the Bitcoin 2013 conference in San Jose, California on May 17.

A prototype of the ATM was unveiled at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum in February, where it dispensed more than $5500 in Bitcoin into virtual accounts. That digital money, due to the speculative nature of the Bitcoin market, is now worth $25,000.

Speculation in the digital currency has been so wild at times that one major online exchange for the money had to throttle trading activity to avoid panic in the market. Other exchanges have had financial problems that prompt wariness about the currency.

However, interest in the virtual currency continues, accompanied by efforts to make it more widely available. Another dispenser, called the G6000 Bitcoin ATM, was demonstrated this week in San Diego.

Lamassu's portable dispenser

Unlike typical bank ATMs (and the G6000), the Bitcoin Machine is small enough to fit on a desktop. Not only does that make it convenient to locate, but it also makes it practical to ship.

The ATM can be programmed to accept any world currency and in some cases, multiple currencies. For example, locations on national borders, like the United States and Canada, may want to accept currency from both nations--although that's not as easy as it could be at the moment because a partnership formed to facilitate the purchase of Bitcoin by Americans and Canadians has dissolved and is embroiled in a lawsuit with the world's largest Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox in Tokyo.

Operators of the ATMs will receive commissions on each transaction made at their location, as well as on any purchases made there using Bitcoin.

"Additionally, the price point is quite low compared to legacy ATMs, so it's easy for the vendor to make the investment back," Lamassu co-founder Zach Harvey said in a statement.

He contends that the Bitcoin Machine can be a stabilizing influence on the virtual currency's market. With Bitcoin exchanges facing banking difficulties and continued hacking attempts, the Bitcoin Machine offers a more decentralized approach that could enable purchasing of Bitcoin anywhere on the planet, he said.

No banks or paperwork are involved and the entire process, from cash to bitcoins, takes just 15 seconds, he added.

"Any new access into the Bitcoin economy is good news for Bitcoin," Bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik told TechHive/PCWorld. "IIf widely deployed, it could be a great way for average citizens to buy Bitcoins."

Lamassu expects to begin taking orders for the Bitcoin ATM in June.

Bitcoin is just the latest in a long of line of digital currencies that have appeared over the years. It remains to be seen if Bitcoin will be a currency that sticks or fades into the ether as have past money schemes.

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