Gary Price makes the point that others have walked down this road before, at least a bit down it, but Google's universal search does sound to me like a broader effort, an attempt to surface data from verticals on many more queries and perhaps even eliminate the need to go separately to the verticals.
From David and Johanna's post:
Finding the best answer across multiple content types is a well-known hard problem in the search field.One thing I find interesting about this is comparing this universal search effort at Google with the federated search done by A9.
Until now, we've only been able to show news, books, local and other such results at the top of the page ... [but] often we end up not showing these kinds of results even when they might be useful.
If only we could smartly place such results elsewhere on the page when they don't quite deserve the top, we could share the benefits of ... [results from verticals] much more often.
Although it's just a beginning ... now you'll be able to get more information Google knows about directly from within the search results. You won't have to know about specialized areas of content.
A9 allowed searching many databases, but searchers had to manually select which data sources to use, and results were not merged. A9 punted on the hard problems with federated search, query routing and relevance rank of the merged results.
Now, Google appears to be taking some of these problems on, trying to determine which of their verticals should be searched given likely user intent with a query and trying to determine which results are mostly likely to be relevant from the disparate data sources.
Of course, Google's universal search is not federated search. Google prefers their own copy of data and is unlikely to hit external sources. But, the problems of query routing and relevance rank of merged results share much in common with the problems that need to be solved for Google's universal search.
It is curious that Udi Manber, former CEO of A9, is now leading Google core search. Perhaps he is finishing the work at Google that he never finished at A9.