Remember the Stanford Artificial Intelligence class that made quite a few waves on the Internet last year when the professor decided to let virtually anyone who was interested participate online? Sebastian Thrun, who specializes in robotics and machine learning, taught that class to close to 160,000 students. Now, however, he has decided to leave Stanford and start Udacity, a new online university that aims to take what Thrun learned through teaching his online classes at Stanford and expand his efforts to a wider range of topics. The first course the new venture plans to offer is an introduction to computer science that he hopes will teach about 500,000 students how to build a search engine.

Thrun made this announcement at the DLD conference in Germany today.

Reuters' Felix Salmon reports that Thrun stressed that out of the 248 students who got a perfect score in his AI class, "not one was enrolled at Stanford."

It's not clear whether there was some internal conflict at Stanford about Thrun's efforts, but he clearly thought that in order to reach enough students and teach the classes he wanted to teach, he had to leave the university and start his own venture.

Udacity is being backed by Charles River Ventures. The project's first class will start on February 20th.

It's not clear if Google has any additional connection with this project, but Thrun managed to get a rather sleepy looking Google CEO Sergey Brin provide an endorsement for the class.

It's worth noting that his former Stanford colleagues Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller also build a somewhat similar platform for running online classes at the scale of the original AI class. Those efforts, and the continuously expanding number of courses running on this platform, continue to be affiliated with Stanford University, however.