Whispers About Stealth Startup Vutool

We’re getting information about a new stealth startup called Vutool. The founder is Sebastian Thrun, Director of the Stanford AI Lab. We hear that he has a team of ten or so people, most of them Stanford Ph.D. students.

Vutool is a “Google Earth” from the ground level. It is being created the hard way – a battalion of cars are traveling around major U.S. cities and taking pictures at ground level, with 6 degrees of rotation. The company calls the experience “street level immersive imagery.” Images are captured from every possible angle – the default view is as if you are in the driver’s seat.

In principle it sounds a bit like Microsoft’s Street-Side service, but on a much grander scale. Where Street Side has only a few photos every block or so, Vutool is a more realistic virtual world. One source described it as “like grand theft auto, but the real world.” Huge amounts of intellectual property were reportedly developed for the project, particularly around image processing, filtering, storage and rendering.

But the service may never launch. They were talking to a number of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, looking to raise $18 million or more in a Series A round of financing. But after receiving a number of term sheets Thrun backed out, saying the company had been acquired.

There are strong indications that Google is the acquiror, and will eventually pair Vutool with Google Earth. Users could zoom from street level to satelite view at will.

Google Metaverse may be here sooner than we think.

The vutool.com domain currently redirects to http://dent.stanford.edu/flash/start.html. Vutool.com is registered to Thrun, but there is little other interesting Whois information. Thrun did not respond to an email requesting comment.