A former Apple Car engineer, Xialang Zhang has pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets related to the autonomous vehicle’s manual, circuit boards, and other confidential data.
Zhang joined Apple’s Project Titan in 2015. As he worked on the project’s Computer Team which was responsible for designing and testing circuit boards for the electric vehicle’s (EV) sensors, Zhang had access to the project’s confidential material and databases. “Schematics for circuit designs are considered among the most valuable trade secrets in the electronics industry.”
Ex-Apple Car engineer wants to take EV’s trade secrets to a Chinese EV company
CNBC reports that in 2018 Apple had 5,000 disclosed (secret) employees working on Project Titan and the company uses internal software to track which employees are disclosed on which projects.
The company got suspicious of Zhang’s intentions after he took paternity leave to travel to China and returned with his resignation. Later when he told Apple that he had planned to work for Xmotors, a Chinese EV company, the company cut his access to its network and launched an investigation.
It was found that Zhang had downloaded documents and information from Project Titan’s databases and even stole circuit boards and Linux servers from the labs. And in 2018, he was arrested by the FBI at the San Jose airport en route to China.
Now after more than two years, Zhang has signed a plea agreement with the U.S. government which is under seal and faces up to 10 years in prison and a huge fine.
Zhang faces as much as 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to a felony charge of theft of trade secrets. Sentencing is scheduled for November.
As unfortunate as this incident of breach of contract and trust is, it is also proof that Apple Car is indeed a reality that rumor mills have been speculating about for years now.
Apple Car is expected to launch in 2025-27 time frame and reportedly, it will feature a level 5 autonomous driving experience that does not require human interference, a revolutionary battery with long-range on low power consumption, LiDAR sensors for navigation, anti-glare windscreens, and more.
Recently, a senior Lamborghini executive Luigi Taraborrelli joined the Apple Car team for the EV’s development.