Microsoft Acquires Startup Bonsai to Build Industrial AI Assets
Jessica Davis | June 20, 2018
Microsoft announced the acquisition on June 20 of Bonsai, a Berkeley, Calif. startup specializing in artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for autonomous systems and industrial environments, Financial terms were not disclosed. As it turns out, Bonsai has been on Microsoft's radar for quite a while. The company is one of many that have received venture capital financing from M12, formerly Microsoft Ventures. In May 2017, Bonsai announced it had raised $7.6 million in a Series A round led by Microsoft Ventures, with additional backing from Siemens, ABB Technology Ventures and Samsung NEXT, the South Korean electronics company’s venture capital fund. Microsoft was mainly interested in Bonsai efforts to make industrial-scale AI and machine learning accessible to developers. "Bonsai has developed a novel approach using machine teaching that abstracts the low-level mechanics of machine learning, so that subject matter experts, regardless of AI aptitude, can specify and train autonomous systems to accomplish tasks," stated Gurdeep Pall, Corporate Vice President of Business AI at Microsoft, in the June 20 announcement. "The actual training takes place inside a simulated environment." Pall went on to note that Bonsai is currently working on "a general-purpose, deep reinforcement learning platform" that will enable enterprises to build AI-powered applications that support a variety of use cases, namely industrial control systems, robotics, manufacturing systems and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Ultimately, Microsoft envisions combining Bonsai's technology with AI innovations from its own research arm, along with the company's cloud-based Azure Machine Learning and IoT services, to serve as the brains of next-generation autonomous systems.