Tesla closing retail stores in shift to online-only sales strategy

Tesla is moving all of its sales online, a dramatic shift in its sales strategy that will result in the closure of stores and some layoffs as the automaker looks for ways to reduce costs in order to bring a cheaper Model 3 to market.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk didn’t say how many stores would close. He noted that some stores would remain and turn into information centers and showrooms. The company didn’t provide specific numbers on how many retail employees might be affected.

“We will be closing some stores and that will be some reduction in head count as a result; there’s no question about that,” Musk said. “There’s no other way for us to achieve the savings required to provide this car and be financially sustainable. I wish there was another but unfortunately, it will entail reduction in workforce on the retail side, no way around it.”

The shift to online-only sales, plus other cost efficiencies, allowed the company to lower all vehicle prices by about 6% on average and finally offer $35,000 Model 3.

Meanwhile, Tesla plans to hire more service technicians, or mechanics, Musk noted during a call with reporters Thursday. Tesla didn’t provide details on how many mechanics it plans to hire.

In order to mitigate the need for a test ride, Tesla is extending the return policies on its vehicles. New customers will be able own a car for a week and driver for 1,000 miles and still return it for a full refund if they don’t like it, Musk said. 

“That’s why we’re going to essentially allow somebody to use the car for free for a week, and return it for a full refund,” Musk said. “And we’re going to make it super easy to get a refund like one click refund.”

Tesla announced Thursday that it was offering a $35,000 version of the Model 3, that will have a 220 miles of range and be able to reach a top speed of 130 miles per hour. 

The company also said it’s introducing a Model 3 Standard Range Plus version, which offers 240 miles of range, a top speed of 140 mph, and 0-60mph acceleration of 5.3 seconds as well as most premium interior features at $37,000 before incentives.

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Cherry lets startup employees choose their own office perks

Forget the office ping pong table, Cherry, a startup in Y Combinator’s latest batch, wants to let employees take company perks into their own hands.

Cherry co-founders (and sisters) Gillian and Emily O’Brien say their Slackbot marketplace will let employees completely personalize the lifestyle benefits they get from their company, allowing them to set up a Spotify Premium account or buy a subscription to Classpass instead of just taking what perks their company dishes out at face value.

Companies will pay huge amounts of money to deliver sweeping employee memberships or build a company gym even if there are only a few people interested in using them. Cherry could potentially eliminate a lot of wasted efforts while still managing to  potential recruits. The available subscriptions run the gamut from things like Classpass, Netflix, Spotify, Peloton, Postmates and other services that allow employees to feel like they’re getting.

A sampling of Cherry’s 40+ available services.

“There’s money that [companies] are wasting that they could save by just giving everyone this budget and letting them choose for themselves,” CEO Gillian O’Brien told TechCrunch. “We also feel [our service] really stands out on an offer — it could be a big differentiator in terms of hiring or just having that on a company’s careers page.”

Users set up their own subscription accounts; Cherry handles paying for employee perks via gift codes and lets them make changes to their cyber-benefits whenever they’d like.

Cherry is charging startups $149 per month to manage the first 10 employees with $15 per person. You can designate as little as $15 per month per employee, but given that it costs that much per employee to even use the service, it’s more likely that customers will be throwing down a bit more.

For now, all of this takes place in Slack via a Cherry chatbot, you can pick from available options by tapping buttons; it’s all pretty lightweight and simple.

The service seems like something that would be especially attractive to remote teams, giving employees who aren’t able to stop in for a free lunch or get a monthly massage the ability to treat themselves on company dime. This also enables smaller startups to just throw money at an attractive employee perks solution without having to add more responsibilities to someone’s job.

Cherry’s platform is live now, you can sign-up and check things out on their website.

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Facebook admits 18% of Research spyware users were teens, not

Facebook has changed its story after initially trying to downplay how it targeted teens with its Research program that a TechCrunch investigation revealed was paying them gift cards to monitor all their mobile app usage and browser traffic. “Less than 5 percent of the people who chose to participate in this market research program were teens” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch and many other news outlets in a damage control effort 7 hours after we published our report on January 29th. At the time,  Facebook claimed that it had removed its Research app from iOS. The next morning we learned that wasn’t true, as Apple had already forcibly blocked the Facebook Research app for violating its Enterprise Certificate program that supposed to reserved for companies distributing internal apps to employees.

It turns out that wasn’t the only time Facebook deceived the public in its response regarding the Research VPN scandal. TechCrunch has attained Facebook’s unpublished February 21st response to questions about the Research program in a letter from Senator Mark Warner, who wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg that “Facebook’s apparent lack of full transparency with users – particularly in the context of ‘research’ efforts – has been a source of frustration for me.”

In the response from Facebook’s VP of US public policy Kevin Martin, the company admits that (emphasis ours) “At the time we ended the Facebook Research App on Apple’s iOS platform, less than 5 percent of the people sharing data with us through this program were teens. Analysis shows that number is about 18 percent when you look at the complete lifetime of the program, and also add people who had become inactive and uninstalled the app.” So 18 percent of research testers were teens. It was only less than 5 percent when Facebook got caught. Given users age 13 to 35 were eligible for Facebook’s Research program, 13 to 18 year olds made of 22 percent of the age range. That means Facebook clearly wasn’t trying to minimize teen involvement, nor were they just a tiny fraction of users.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary and Commerce committee hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Zuckerberg, 33, was called to testify after it was reported that 87 million Facebook users had their personal information harvested by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm linked to the Trump campaign. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Warner asked Facebook “Do you think any use reasonable understood Facebook was using this data for commercial purposes includingto track competitors?” Facebook response indicates it never told Research users anything about tracking “competitors”, and instead dances around the question. Facebook says the registration process told users the data would help the company “understand how people use mobile apps,” “improve . . . services,” and “introduce new features for millions of people around the world.”

Facebook had also told reporters on January 29th regarding teens’ participation, “All of them with signed parental consent forms.” Yet in its response to Senator Warner, Facebook admitted that “Potential participants were required to confirm that they were over 18 or provide other evidence of parental consent, though the vendors did not require a signed parental consent form for teen users.” In some cases, underage users merely had to check a box to claim they had parental consent, and there was no verification of users’ ages or that their parents actually approved.

So to quickly recap:

Facebook targeted teens with ads on Instagram and Snapchat to join the Research program without revealing its involvement

The contradictions between Facebook’s initial response to reporters and what it told Warner, who has the power to pursue regulation of the the tech giant, shows Facebook willingness to move fast and play loose with the truth when it’s less accountable. It’s no wonder the company never shared the response with TechCrunch or posted a blog post or press release about it.

Facebook’s attempt to minimize the issue in the wake of backlash exemplifies the trend of of the social network’s “reactionary” PR strategy that employees described to BuzzFeed’s Ryan Mac. The company often views its scandals as communications errors rather than actual product screwups or as signals of deep-seeded problems with Facebook’s respect for privacy. Facebook needs to learn to take its lumps, change course, and do better rather than constantly trying to challenge details of negative press about it, especially before it has all the necessary information. Until then, the never-ending news cycle of Facebook’s self-made disasters will continue.

Below is Facebook’s full response to Senator Warner’s inquiry, followed by Warner’s original letter to Mark Zuckerberg..

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A nanoparticle injection is all it takes to let these mice see in infrared

I know it’s everyone’s dream to see outside the wavelengths allotted to our visual systems. Well, as usual, mice have gotten there first, with the help of some clever scientists. By injecting specialized light-tweaking nanoparticles into a mouse’s retina, that mouse is suddenly and clearly able to perceive near-infrared light — suggesting the same could be possible for us, assuming you don’t mind a needle in the eye.

The advance involves what the researchers, from the University of Science and Technology in China, call “ocular injectable photoreceptor-binding upconversion nanoparticles.” It’s actually not as complicated as it sounds. Well… actually, it is pretty complicated.

The human eye can only see wavelengths of light between about 430 and 770 nanometers; above that is ultraviolet and below it is infrared. We don’t see infrared but in great enough quantities we can sense the heat it imparts. All objects give off IR, increasingly so the warmer they are, which is the basis for heat vision goggles.

But while some infrared is well outside our ability to sense, a band known as near-infrared (NIR) is just below the reds we can detect. What if you could shift that NIR upwards with some kind of optical trickery? We do it all the time, of course — convert one kind of light or energy into another.

In fact, it turns out that these researchers had already created the necessary trickery for a different reason, namely as a molecule for optogenetic triggers that would absorb infrared light (which conveniently penetrates many tissues) and emit visible spectrum light instead.

The nanoparticles bind to rods and cones, coating them and changing the wavelengths they are sensitive to.

These “nanoantennae,” as the researchers call them, are biocompatible and can be combined with proteins that encourage them to bind with the photoreceptive cells in our retinas. What happens when you coat a cell that normally detects green light with a molecule that absorbs NIR radiation (900-1000 nm) and outputs something 500 nm shorter? That cell can effectively now sees IR as a shade and intensity of green.

Transmission electron microscopy image of the nanoparticles.

That’s exactly what happened when the team injected these molecules into the eyes of mice (such subretinal injections are already done in humans with some eye problems); the animals were instantly able to detect NIR in a variety of circumstances. Not only did a beam of IR cause their pupils to constrict, but patterns projected in IR indicating a reward were reliably sought by the mice, indicating this was not just a general awareness but detailed perception in the wavelength.

Note that this is different from the colorful “heat vision” we see in movies — night vision goggles use electronic sensors to amplify and categorize incoming radiation outside the visual range, producing those interesting noisy rainbow images. This would be more like seeing something warm as slightly more bright (and greener) than a cooler item of the same color. You’d also be able to see the TV clicker blinking its little patterns.

The molecules also seemed to cause no serious problems in the retina, such as cell death or irritation — and the mice were still able to see in IR some 10 weeks after injection.

The team explains the importance of their findings:

It is important to note that these injected nanoantennae did not interfere with natural visible light vision. The ability to simultaneously detect visible and NIR light patterns suggests enhanced mammalian visual performance by extending the native visual spectrum without genetic modification and avoiding the need for bulky external devices. This approach offers several advantages over the currently used optoelectronic devices, such as no need for any external energy supply, and is compatible with other human activities.

In other words, this could be a simple, safe, and reversible way to extend human vision well beyond our present capabilities — no batteries required. Not exactly something you’d want done on a whim, but you better believe the military would be interested. Of course a great deal of further work and testing needs to be done, but this does seem like a particularly promising application of nanotech.

The research was published today in the journal Cell.

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CEO Richard Plepler is leaving HBO

Richard Pleper, who’s been at HBO since 1992 and served as CEO since 2013, is leaving the network.

In a staff memo, Plepler didn’t offer specific reasons for his departure but said, “Hard as it is to think about leaving the company I love, and the people I love in it, it is the right time for me to do so.”

The news comes less than a year after AT&T acquired HBO’s corporate parent Time Warner.

Shortly after the deal closed, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey held a town hall meeting where he said HBO would need to grow its subscriber base and the amount of time those subscribers spend watching HBO content (a recording of the meeting was obtained by The New York Times). In the memo, Plepler said he’s told Stankey — “who has been nothing but gracious since we spoke” — that he “would work closely with him to assure a seamless and organic transition.”

This also comes as WarnerMedia plans to launch a streaming service of its own. While Pleper was CEO, Netflix has reshaped the TV landscape (and supplanted HBO as the leader in Emmy nominations), but it was also under his leadership that HBO launched its own direct-to-consumer subscription service, HBO Now, setting the stage for seemingly every network and media company launching a streaming service of its own.

In fact, the one time I interviewed Plepler was in 2013, at a red carpet event for “Game of Thrones” (I’m still not sure what I was doing there). When asked to speculate about what the future would hold, he replied, “Maybe even a broadband-only HBO delivery system. Who knows? We’ll see where that goes down the road.”

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The $35,000 Tesla Model 3 has arrived — but there’s a cost

The long-awaited $35,000 Tesla Model 3 has finally arrived, three years after CEO Elon Musk promised to bring the electric vehicle to market at that price point. But that cheaper Model 3 comes with a price — or at least a dramatic shift for Tesla.

Tesla said that to achieve this lower price it will shift all sales globally to online only, meaning the company will be closing many of its stores over the next few months.

A small number of stores in high-traffic locations will remain as galleries, showcases and Tesla information centers, the company said.

“Shifting all sales online, combined with other ongoing cost efficiencies, will enable us to lower all vehicle prices by about 6% on average, allowing us to achieve the $35,000 Model 3 price point earlier than we expected,” the company wrote in a post.

Tesla announced Thursday that the $35,000 version will have a 220 miles of range and be able to reach a top speed of 130 miles per hour. 

The company also said it’s introducing a Model 3 Standard Range Plus version, which offers 240 miles of range, a top speed of 140 mph, and 0-60mph acceleration of 5.3 seconds as well as most premium interior features at $37,000 before incentives.

This is a developing story.

Just hours before the announcement, the “order” webpages for the Model 3, Model S and Model X vehicle redirected to show message that read “The wait is almost over.” Below the main message, it read “Great things are launching at 2 pm.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Feb. 27 “Some Tesla news,” followed by equally vague tweets “2 pm” and “California.”

The tweets had led to widespread speculation of what Musk would announce. Others argued that the teasing tweets were merely a tactic to distract investors and the media from his recent scuffle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission .

The SEC asked a judge Feb. 25 to hold Musk in contempt for violating the settlement agreement reached with the agency last year. The SEC argued that a tweet sent by Musk on February 19 violated their agreement. Musk is supposed to get approval from Tesla’s board before communicating potentially material information to investors.

A U.S. judge issued an order Feb. 26 that gives Musk until March 11 to explain why he should not be held in contempt for violating a settlement agreement with the SEC.

This is a developing story.

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Skyrim mod drama gets ugly with allegations of stolen code and misappropriated donations

The people who volunteer their time modifying and updating old games are among the most generous of developers. So when drama erupts there’s not just irritation and testy emails but a sense of a community being betrayed or taken advantage of. A recent conflict over work on the perennially renewed classic Skyrim may seem small but for those involved, it’s a huge upset.

I don’t mean to make a bigger deal out of this niche issue than it is; I feel though that sometimes it’s important to elevate things not because they are highly important in and of themselves, but because they represent a class of small injustices or conflicts that are rife on the modern web.

The example today comes from the Skyrim modding community, which creates all kinds of improvements for the classic fantasy adventure, from new items and better maps to complete overhauls. It’s one of the most active out there, as Bethesda not only is highly tolerant of modders but tends to ship games, if we’re honest, in pretty poor shape. Modders have taken to filling in the gaps left by Bethesda and making the original game far better than how it shipped.

One of the more useful of these mods, for developers but indirectly for players, is the Skyrim Script Extender, or SKSE. It basically allows for more complex behaviors for objects, locations, and NPCs. How do you have a character seek shelter from the rain if there’s no weather-based behaviors in their original AI? That sort of thing (though that’s an invented example). SKSE goes back a long way and the creators provide much of the code for others to use under a free license, while declining donations themselves.

Another project is Skyrim Together (ST), a small team which since 2013 has (among others) been working on adding multiplayer functionality to the game — their Patreon account, in contrast, is pulling in more than $30,000 a month. The main dev there allegedly independently distributed a modified version of SKSE several years ago against the terms of the license, and was henceforth specifically banned from using SKSE code in the future.

Guess what SKSE’s lead found in a bit of code inspection the other day?

Yes, unfortunately, it seems that SKSE code is in the ST app, not only in violation of the license as far as not giving credit, but in that the dev himself has been barred from using it, and furthermore that — although there is some debate here — the ST team is essentially charging for access to a “closed beta.” Some say that it’s just a donation they ask for, but requiring a donation is really indistinguishable from charging for something.

A response from the devs downplayed the issue; they say it’s just a bit of old junk in the codebase:

There might be some leftover code from them in there that was overlooked when we removed it, it isn’t as simple as just deleting a folder, mainly our fault because we rushed some parts of the code. Anyway we are going to make sure to remove what might have slipped through the cracks for the next patch.

Instead of SKSE, one developer said, they had substituted other code, for instance from the project libSkyrim. But as others quickly pointed out, libSkyrim is based on SKSE and there’s no way they could be ignorant of that fact. So the assertion that they weren’t using the forbidden code doesn’t really hold water. Not only that, but ST doesn’t even credit libSkyrim at all, a standard practice when you reuse code.

This wouldn’t really be as big of a problem if ST was not only making quite a bit of scratch off their project via donations, but required donations for access to the code. That arguably makes it a commercial project, putting it even farther outside the bounds of code reuse.

Now, taking the hard work of open and semi-open source developers and using it in other projects is encouraged — in fact, it’s kind of the point. But it’s meant to be a collaboration, and the rules are there to make sure credit goes where it’s due.

I don’t think the ST people are villains; they’re working on something many players are interesting in using — and paying for, if the Patreon is any indication. That’s great, and it’s what the mod community is all about. But the other side of the community, as in any group of developers, is respectful and mutual acknowledgement.

Honesty is important here because it’s not always possible to audit someone else’s code. And honesty is also important because users want to be able to trust developers for a variety of reasons — not least of which that they are donating to a project working in good faith. That trust was shaken here.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t mean to make this a huge deal. No one is getting rich (though even split ten ways, $33,000 a month is nothing to sniff at), and no one is getting hurt. But I imagine there’s hardly an open source project out there that hasn’t had to police others’ use of their code or live in fear of someone cashing in on something they’ve donated their time to for years.

Here’s hoping this particular tempest in a teapot resolves happily, but don’t forget there’s a lot more teapots where this one came from.

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Bitbucket Pipes expands automation capabilities for the CI/CD pipeline

Atlassian wants to make it easier to build automated CI/CD workflows for DevOps initiatives with its release of Bitbucket Pipes today. The newly announced solution is a CI/CD cloud-based tools that enables the configuration of pipelines with code.

“The democratizing nature of DevOps has seen the responsibility of building and managing CI/CD pipelines transition from specialized release engineers to developers. But automating a robust, dependable CI/CD pipeline is tedious work,” Harpreet Singh, head of product for Bitbucket Cloud, wrote in a post. “Developers need to connect to multiple tools to deliver software, and writing pipeline integrations for these services is a manual, error-prone process. There’s research involved to ensure dependencies are accounted for, as well as debugging and maintaining integrations when updates are made. It’s no wonder many teams put automating CI/CD firmly in the ‘too hard’ basket.”

To develop Bitbucket Pipes and provide supported pipes for automating the pipeline, the company worked with companies like Google, Microsoft, AWS and Slack. Pipes are designed simplify the process of dealing with repeated and complicated tasks. In addition, the solution enables developers to create their own pipes. “Whether you’re creating a simple deploy pipeline to a hosting service like AWS, utilizing a multi-cloud deployment strategy, or automating a sophisticated pipeline that involves security scanning, monitoring, and artifact management, Bitbucket Pipes makes it easy to build and automate a CI/CD pipeline that meets your exact needs,” Singh wrote.

According to the company, developers can write their own pipes to do the same action in several steps, run similar tasks in multiple repositories and perform actions that need dependencies. Vendors can write pipes to make their software or service easier to work with within the pipeline. “At its heart, a pipe is a custom Docker image for a container, which contains a script to perform a task. A pipeline calls this pipe, passing it some variables and the magic happens,” according to the company’s website.

Atlassian explained the supported pipes will be updated and managed by their authors, so developers don’t have to worry about constantly updating and re-configuring them. There will be pipes available for new users as well as the ability for experienced users to reuse pipes and discover new ways they can automate their pipelines.

The post Bitbucket Pipes expands automation capabilities for the CI/CD pipeline appeared first on SD Times.

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It’s a new era for fertility tech

Women’s health has long been devoid of technological innovation, but when it comes to fertility options, that’s starting to change. Startups in the space are securing hundreds of millions in venture capital investment, a significant increase to the dearth of funding collected in previous years.

Fertility entrepreneurs are focused on a growing market: couples are choosing to reproduce later in life, an increasing number of female breadwinners are able to make their own decisions about when and how to reproduce, and overall, around 10% of women in the US today have trouble conceiving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Startups, as a result, are working to improve various pain points in a women’s fertility journey, whether that be with new-age brick-and-mortar clinics, information platforms, mobile applications, wearables, direct-to-consumer medical tests or otherwise.

Although the investment numbers are still relatively small (compared to, say, scooters), the trend is up — here’s the latest from founders and investors in the space.

VCs want to help you get pregnant

Clue, a period and ovulation-tracking app, co-founder and CEO Ida Tin talks at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2017 (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

This fall, TechCrunch received a tip that SoftBank, a prolific venture capital firm known for its nearly $100 billion Vision Fund, was investing in Glow, a period-tracking app meant to help women get pregnant. Max Levchin, Glow’s co-founder and a well-known member of the PayPal mafia, succinctly responded to a TechCrunch inquiry regarding the deal via e-mail: “Fairly sure you got this particular story wrong,” he wrote. Glow co-founder and chief executive officer Mike Huang did not respond to multiple requests for comment at the time.

Needless to say, some semblance of a SoftBank fertility deal got this reporter interested in a space that seldom populates tech blogs.

Femtech, a term coined by Ida Tin, the founder of another period and ovulation-tracking app Clue, is defined as any software, diagnostics, products and services that leverage technology to improve women’s health. Femtech, and more specifically the businesses in the fertility and contraception lanes, hasn’t made headlines as often as AI or blockchain technology has, for example. Probably because companies in the sector haven’t closed as many notable venture deals. That’s changing.

The global fertility services market is expected to exceed $21 billion by 2020, according to Technavio. Meanwhile, private investment in the femtech space surpassed $400 million in 2018 after reaching a high of $354 million the previous year, per data collected from PitchBook and Crunchbase. This year already several companies have inked venture deals, including men’s fertility business Dadi and Extend Fertility, which helps women freeze their eggs.

“In the last three to six months, it feels like investor interest has gone through the roof,” Jake Anderson-Bialis, co-founder of FertilityIQ and a former investor at Sequoia Capital, told TechCrunch. “It’s three to four emails a day; people are coming out of the woodwork. It feels like somebody shook the snow globe here and it just hasn’t stopped for months now.”

Dadi, Extend Fertility and FertilityIQ are among a growing list of startups in the fertility space to crop up in recent years. FertilityIQ, for its part, provides a digital platform for fertility patients to research and review doctors and clinics. The company also collects data and issues reports, like this one, which ranked businesses by fertility benefits. Anderson-Bialis launched the platform with his wife, co-founder Deborah Anderson-Bialis, in 2016 after the pair overcame their own set of infertility issues.

Anderson-Bialis said he has recently fielded requests from seed, Series A and growth-stage investors interested in exploring the growing fertility market. His company, however, has yet to raise any outside capital. Why? He doesn’t see FertilityIQ as a venture-scale business, but rather a passion project, and he’s skeptical of the true market opportunity for other businesses in the space.

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This robot automatically sorts and prices cards from Magic: The Gathering

If you’ve ever dabbled in collectible card games — Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, etc. — you know how quickly collections can grow. One pack turns into two. Two turns into five. Then they release some new set and… screw it, why not buy a whole box?

Card resellers have the same problem, just magnified to an extreme. People who’ve stopped playing a game for whatever reason (sometimes years prior) walk in with massive collections and just want to get rid of them. Online resellers and card stores can end up with monstrous stockpiles of unsorted cards, and going through them requires a ton of time and a wealth of ultra specific knowledge of a game. Which cards are rare? Which ones are a bit more common, but useful enough that players would want to buy them for their decks? What are they all worth?

Sorting Robotics, a company in Y-Combinator’s Winter 2019 class, has built a robot laser-focused on that problem. You load it with up to 1000 Magic cards, and it’ll automatically sort them to your liking, look up their values, and give you all the data in a big spreadsheet.

The machine is able to sort by a bunch of different criteria, be it alphabetically, by the set a card is from, or by its resale value (as pulled from TCGPlayer.) Want a big pile of all of the cards worth over $1? It can do that. If you need them sorted other ways, the company is open to helping with custom sorting logic.

One challenge the team had to tackle early on was how to handle cards with minimal contact for the sake of preventing possible damage. Some Magic cards, after all, resell for hundreds or thousands of dollars — if their machines got a reputation for damaging cards even occasionally, no one would use it.

So Sorting came up with a pneumatic system that uses cameras, computer vision, polished surfaces, and silicone suction cups to identify and move cards from stack to stack with limited contact. There are a few fancy tricks involved, like picking up cards in a way that utilizes the airflow within the machine to keep it from lifting two lightly-stuck-together cards at once. If a card is loaded into the machine upside down, it’ll shift it into a pile with other upside down cards to be manually flipped and re-sorted later. Sorting 1000 cards takes 1-2 hours, depending on the criteria they’re being sorted by.

If a card does somehow get damaged, Sorting Robotics says they’ll cover the cost. (They’ll want to check the feed from a pair of cameras inside the machine to see exactly what happened, so you probably shouldn’t go throwing an already-bent up Time Walk card in there and asking for reimbursement.)

Another challenge: dirt. Even for collectors, cards are rarely 100% pristine. There’s the natural oils from your hand, the dust from being stored over time, and even some amount of the card’s own dust, left over from the printing and cutting process. You might not really notice it if you’re just dealing with your own collection — but when you’re putting thousands of cards through a machine with moving parts and camera lenses, the dust adds up fast. Later versions of their machine have been re-tailored to deal with dust, and to be more easily maintained when the dust builds up.

Sorting has three founders: Nohtal Partansky and Sean Lawler (both of whom were previously Systems Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab), and Cassio Elias dos Santos Junior, a computer vision engineer who previously built a popular Magic card scanning app for Android.

As for how much it costs, the company would only say that it’s working on that on a case-by-case, shop-by-shop basis. They stressed that they’re focusing on building these for online resellers and card shops — so it sounds like it’s not in the price range that most hobbyists might consider.

The machine currently only sorts Magic cards, though the founders tell me support for Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon cards is coming shortly.

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