Former Apple employee charged with stealing trade secrets related to autonomous vehicle project

Xiaolang Zhang reportedly download blueprints for a circuit board before booking a flight to China

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Former Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang has been charged for stealing blueprints related to the Cupertino computing giant’s as-of-yet undisclosed autonomous vehicle project.

According to a report from Reuters, Zhang downloaded blueprints for a self-driving vehicle circuit board, before booking a flight to China.

Authorities apprehended Zhang on Saturday, July 7th, 2018 at Mineta San Jose International Airport before he was able to board his Hainan Airlines flight, according to the Mercury News.

Reuters reported that Zhang has previously disclosed plans to work for Chinese electric vehicle startup XMotors.

While Zhang has yet to be arraigned, the charges filed in U.S. federal court revealed scant details on Apple’s secretive autonomous vehicle project.

To begin with, approximately 5,000 employees were authorized to access information about the project. Of that number, 2,700 employees had access to “secret databases,” according to Reuters.

Zhang was reportedly shown a proprietary chip developed by Apple, and he designed circuit boards to analyze sensor data. As such, it can be inferred that not only is Apple designing its own chips for the project — rather than relying on hardware developed by other companies — the company might be working on building technologies that are able to intake information from multiple sensors simultaneously.

Apple secrecy

Rumours of Apple’s autonomous vehicle project have swirled since 2015, when a report by The Guardian suggested that the company was building a team of designers, engineers and battery experts to work on a car-related project.

Since that time, rumours suggested that Apple was working on its autonomous vehicle project in Ottawa, while Apple’s hiring of former Waymo engineer Jamie Waydo in June 2018 suggested that the company’s project is still under development.

It’s worth noting that a report obtained by AppleInsider in March 2018 suggested that Apple will need to make up its mind about participating in the self-driving vehicle market within the next two years.

Source: Reuters, Mercury News