Waymo buys Latent Logic, drives deeper into simulation and Europe

Kirsten Korosec

Waymo has acquired Latent Logic, a U.K. company that spun out of Oxford University's computer science department, as the autonomous vehicle company seeks to beef up its simulation technology.

The acquisition also marks the launch of Waymo's first European engineering hub, which will be in Oxford, U.K. This likely won't be the end of Waymo's expansion and investment in Europe and the U.K. The former Google self-driving project that is now an Alphabet business said it will continue to look for opportunities to grow the team in the U.K. and Europe.

Earlier this year, Waymo locked in an exclusive partnership with Renault and Nissan to research how commercial autonomous vehicles might work for passengers and packages in France and Japan. In October, Waymo said that it is working with Renault to study the possibility of establishing an autonomous transportation route in Paris.

Waymo has made simulation one of the pillars of its autonomous vehicle development program. But Latent Logic could help Waymo make its simulation more realistic by using a form of machine learning called imitation learning.

Imitation learning models human behavior of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The idea is that by modeling the mistakes and imperfect driving of humans, the simulation will become more realistic and theoretically improve Waymo's behavior prediction and planning.

Waymo isn't sharing financial details of the acquisition. But it appears that the two Latent Logic founders, Shimon Whiteson and João Messia, CEO Kirsty Lloyd-Jukes and key members of the engineering and technical team will join Waymo. The Latent Logic team will remain in Oxford.

"By joining Waymo, we are taking a big leap towards realizing our ambition of safe, self-driving vehicles," said Latent Logic co-founder and chief scientist Shimon Whiteson. "In just two years, we have made significant progress in using imitation learning to simulate real human behaviors on the road. I'm excited by what we can now achieve in combining this expertise with the talent, resources and progress Waymo have already made in self-driving technology."