A former Apple engineer has admitted to stealing trade secrets relating to the Apple Car.
Xiaolang Zhang worked on Apple’s secretive self-driving car project from 2015 to 2018. He then left the company to work for Guangzhou Xiaopeng Motors Technology, aka Xpeng, to whom it’s been discovered that he was attempting to deliver sensitive data stolen from his previous employer.
The former Apple engineer has pled guilty in US federal court to stealing computer files containing trade secrets about the Apple Car. An investigation had revealed that Zhang had downloaded a 25-page document featuring engineering schematics of a circuit board for an autonomous vehicle, as well as related reference manuals and PDFs.
He was also captured on Apple’s CCTV system stealing circuit boards and a server from its labs.
Zhang was apprehended at San Jose airport in 2018 whilst attempting to fly to China. He now faces the possibility of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for theft of trade secrets.
As CNBC reports, the process of Zhang’s prosecution has revealed the level of secrecy surrounding Apple’s autonomous electric vehicle efforts in recent years. It has revealed that Apple tracks its employees’ access to the project, and that workers are required to attend secrecy training sessions.
The Apple Car project has been in the works for years, and has reportedly faced a number of difficulties on its way to market, including a high turnover of staff. According to report back in May, however, the project is still very much alive, and we could see the first Apple Car on roads in 2025.