If you've ever experimented with trading card games – Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, etc. – you know how quickly collections can grow. A pack becomes two. Two turns into five. Then they release a new set and … screw it, why do not you buy a whole box?
Resellers of cards have the same problem, only magnified to an extreme. People who for some reason (sometimes years ago) stopped playing a game come in with huge collections and just want to get rid of them. Online resellers and ticket shops can end up with huge stocks of unsorted maps, and traversing these maps requires a lot of time and a wealth of ultra-specific knowledge about a game. Which cards are rare? Which are more common but useful enough for players to buy for their decks? What is all this worth?
Sorting Robotics, a company in the Winter 201
The machine can sort by a number of different sorting criteria, be it alphabetically, the rate from which a card originated, or its resale value (as retrieved from the TCGPlayer). Do you want a big pile of all cards worth more than a dollar? That can do that. If you need to sort them in another way, the company is ready to help with the custom sort logic.
One challenge the team had to face early was dealing with cards with minimal contact to avoid potential damage. After all, some Magic cards sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars – if their machine had the reputation of occasionally damaging cards, nobody would use them.
So Sorting had a pneumatic system with cameras and computer vision polished surfaces and silicon vacuum cups for identifying and moving low-contact cards from stack to stack. There are some fancy tricks, such as picking up cards in a way that uses the airflow in the machine to prevent two slightly-glued cards from lifting at the same time. When a card is inserted into the device upside down, it is stacked on top of other cards turned upside down, which are later manually turned over and reordered. Sorting 1,000 cards takes 1-2 hours, depending on the criteria by which they are sorted.
If a card somehow gets damaged, it will be damaged by Sorting Robotics's costs. (You want to check the feed of two cameras in the machine to see exactly what happened, so you probably should not put a bent Time-Walk card in there and ask for reimbursement.)
Another challenge: Dirt. Even for collectors, cards are seldom 100 percent flawless. There are the natural oils from your hand, the dust stored over time, and even some of the card's own dust left over from the printing and cutting process. You may not really notice it if you are only dealing with your own collection. However, when you put thousands of cards through a machine with moving parts and camera lenses, the dust gets bigger quickly. Later versions of their machine have been redesigned to handle dust better and easier to maintain when dust accumulates.
Sorting has three founders: Nohtal Partansky and Sean Lawlor (both formerly System Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and Cassio Elias dos Santos Junior, a computer vision engineer who previously had a popular Magic Cards Scanning App for Android has developed.
As far as the costs are concerned, the company says only that it works on a case by case, shop-by-shop basis. They emphasized that they are focusing on building these up for online resellers and card shops – so it sounds like they are not in the price range most hobby artists could consider for Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokémon cards will be available shortly.