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Microsoft has acquired Berkeley, California startup Bonsai in a bid to enhance its artificial intelligence (AI) development toolset.

Bonsai, which received funding in 2017 from Microsoft’s venture capital arm M12, designs deep learning tools aimed at enterprise, specifically in the robotics, energy, HVAC, manufacturing, and autonomous vehicle sectors. Using open-source machine learning library TensorFlow, it “abstracts … low-level mechanics” to enable engineers — even those without AI expertise — to specify and train autonomous systems to accomplish tasks in a virtual environment.

Among the services it provides are automated model generation and management, APIs and software development kits (SDKs) for simulator integration, and support for simulations. Notably, in 2017, the company developed a new technique for programming industrial control systems that performed 45 times faster than a comparable approach from Google’s DeepMind. And this year, it worked with German engineering firm Siemens to train an AI model to autocalibrate a computer numerical control machine 30 times more quickly than conventional methods.

“Bonsai’s platform combined with rich simulation tools and reinforcement learning work in Microsoft Research becomes the simplest and richest AI toolchain for building any kind of autonomous system for control and calibration tasks,” Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice president at Microsoft, wrote in a statement. “This toolchain will compose with Azure Machine Learning running on the Azure Cloud with GPUs and Brainwave, and models built with it will be deployed and managed in Azure IoT, giving Microsoft an end-to-end solution for building, operating and enhancing ‘brains’ for autonomous systems.”

Microsoft’s growing portfolio of AI developer tools includes Microsoft Cognitive Services, a collection of APIs for vision, speech, language, search, and knowledge technologies; Azure AI cloud services; and deep learning and reinforcement technologies from Maluuba, a Montreal-based AI startup it purchased in 2017.

Bonsai was founded in 2014 by Mark Hammond and Keen Browne. In 2017, it was listed among CB Insight’s AI 100.


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