MediaNews has learned that Google has quietly licensed the sensing technology developed by a team of Stanford University students that enabled Stanley, a Volkswagon Touareg R5, to win the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. In that race, the Stanford robotic car successfully drove more than 131 miles through the Mojave Desert in less than seven hours.

The technology will enable Google to map out photo-realistic 3-D versions of cities around the world, and possibly regain ground it has lost to Microsoft's 3-D mapping application known as Virtual Earth.