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May 4, 2017

Bonsai Raises Cash, Expands Access to AI Services

George Leopold

AI services developer Bonsai said an extended early funding round included new investor Microsoft Ventures, raising $7.6 million.

Microsoft Ventures was joined by existing investor New Enterprise Associates along with strategic investors ABB Technology Ventures, Samsung NEXT and Siemens.

Bonsai, Berkeley, Calif., also rolled out an “early access program” on Wednesday (May 3) designed to connect with manufacturers and related fields such as robotics, supply chain management, logistics and the energy sectors.

“There is an increasing demand for AI models that can inject greater intelligence, in the form of control and optimization, into sophisticated, often industrial systems,” noted Bonsai CEO Mark Hammond. The goal of the early access program is accelerating the development of AI models for specific use cases.

AI platform developers argue that many industrial enterprises lack the tools required to move from generic AI platforms to application-specific models that combine advanced machine learning libraries and algorithms to meet specific industry requirements.

Bonsai said its access program would allow customers to jointly develop AI models for individual use cases.

Bonsai was founded in 2014 by Hammond and Keen Browne with the goal of adding intelligence to hardware and software applications. New investor Microsoft Ventures also has emerged as a major player in the booming AI market.

The startup’s platform abstracts the complexity of libraries like TensorFlow, making the programming and management of AI models more accessible to developers and enterprises.

The company was a startup showcase winner at the 2016 Strata+Hadoop conference.

Along with building and deploying AI services, Bonsai’s cloud-based platform serves as a marketplace where the services can be bought and sold. Key components of its platform include the core intelligence server called BRAIN, which customers program with a high-level language called Inkling that aims to abstract customers from underlying AI complexity. Customers develop with Inkling within Bonsai’s visual development environment, called Mastermind.

Bonsai said its service works both with batch and programmatically generated data, as well as streaming data. A key element of the platform is that models built with BRAIN are reusable, much like a library for a language, the company added. The idea is to generate a marketplace where these reusable models can be bought and sold.

Meanwhile, German manufacturing giant and Bonsai investor Siemens (ETR: SIE0) noted that the combination of its domain knowledge and the Bonsai platform yields what it calls “industrial-strength AI technology.” That combination could be leveraged as manufacturers roll out early versions of the industrial Internet of Things.

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