Microsoft to buy Bonsai to boost AI developer tools

The company has already received significant funding from Microsoft through M12

Microsoft has acquired Californian startup Bonsai to help developers introduce machine learning to their existing autonomous systems running on Microsoft Azure.

Bonsai allows those not adept at developing AI-based applications to create new projects, specifying and training autonomous systems to carry out tasks demanded of them.

It's designed for use across almost every industry, although Microsoft highlighted robotics, energy, HVAC, manufacturing and autonomous systems as key targets.

"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 of Microsoft's Business AI division said.

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Bonsai has already received significant funding from Microsoft in the past, including a cash injection from the company's M12 venture capitalist arm to help develop its developer tools. It seems the tech giant was so impressed with what the startup did with its money, it's now decided to onboard the tech, adding it to its suite of developer tools.

"What I find exciting is that Bonsai has achieved some remarkable breakthroughs with their approach that will have a profound impact on AI development," Pall added. "Last fall, they established a new reinforcement learning benchmark for programming industrial control systems. Using a robotics task to demonstrate the achievement, the platform successfully trained a simulated robotic arm to grasp and stack blocks on top of one another by breaking down the task into simpler sub-concepts."

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It managed to perform 45 times faster than Microsoft's rival, Google DeepMind, Pall added - something that surely contributed to the company's decision to snap it up.

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Microsoft has been acquiring AI businesses left, right and centre recently, including the purchase of Maluuba for enhancing its deep learning tools. It's also made solid advances in simulation-based learning in the form of AirSim and is planning to buy developer repository GitHub in the coming months.

Image credit: Microsoft 

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