If you've ever played collectible card games (Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, etc.), you know how fast collections can grow. A package turns into two. Two rounds in five. Then they release a new game and … screw it, why not buy a whole box?
Card resellers have the same problem, magnified to the extreme. People who have stopped playing a game for some reason (sometimes several years ago) have big collections and just want to get rid of them. Online retailers and card stores can end up with monstrous stocks of unsorted cards. Their treatment requires a ton of time and a wealth of very specific knowledge of the game. What cards are rare? Which ones are a bit more common, but useful enough for players to want to buy them for their decks? What are they all worth?
Sorting Robotics, a Y-Combinator Winter Class 2019 company, has built a robot focused on this problem. You load it with 1000 Magic cards at most. It automatically sorts them as you like, searches for their values and provides you with all the data in a large spreadsheet.
The machine is able to sort according to several different criteria, whether in alphabetical order, by the original game of a card or by its resale value (taken from TCGPlayer.) You want a big pile of all cards with a value greater than 1 USD? He can do that. If you need to sort them otherwise, the company is willing to help you with a custom sorting logic.
One of the team's challenges was knowing how to handle cards with minimal contact to prevent possible damage. Some Magic cards, after all, are sold for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. If their machines had the reputation of damaging the cards, even on occasion, nobody would use them.
For example, Triing has developed a pneumatic system that uses cameras, computer vision, polished surfaces and silicone suction cups to identify and move cards from one battery to another with limited contact. Some tips are involved, such as choosing cards using the airflow of the machine to prevent it from lifting two cards slightly glued at the same time. If a card is loaded upside down in the machine, it will be moved into a stack with other cards upside down which will be returned manually and sorted again later. The sorting of 1,000 cards takes between 1 and 2 hours, depending on the criteria on which they are sorted.
If a card Is Sorting Robotics says they will cover the cost. (They will want to check the power of a pair of cameras inside the machine to see exactly what happened, so you probably should not start an already curved Time Walk card and ask for a refund.)
Another challenge: dirt. Even for collectors, cards are rarely 100% intact. There are the natural oils in your hand, the accumulated dust over time and even some of the dust from the card, left behind by the process of printing and cutting. You may not really notice it if you only look after your own collection – but when you insert thousands of cards into a machine with moving parts and camera lenses, the dust will come off. accumulates quickly. Later versions of their machine have been redesigned to better treat dust and be easier to maintain when dust builds up.
Triing has three founders: Nohtal Partansky and Sean Lawlor (both system engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion lab) and Cassio Elias dos Santos Junior, a computer vision engineer who had previously created a magic map scanning application for Android .
In terms of costs, the company will only say that it works on a case-by-case, store-by-shop basis. They insisted that they focused on creating these solutions for online resellers and card stores. So it seems that this is not in the price range that most fans might consider.
The machine currently only sorts Magic cards, although the founders tell me that support for Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon cards will be available soon.