According to Reuters, Xiaolang Zhang was working for Apple and stole an assortment of information from the company. He then attempted to flee to China, but was arrested at the San Jose airport on July 7th and charged with stealing trade secrets.
Zhang was a member of Apple’s autonomous vehicle team and was tasked with designing and testing circuit boards that analyze sensor data. Following a trip to China in April, Zhang announced his intention to resign from Apple, move to China and begin working for Xiaopeng Motors.
This appears to have raised a red flag as Zhang’s supervisor contacted Apple security personal who then examined Zhang’s activities at the company. They reportedly discovered Zhang had run “extensive searches of secret databases” and visited Apple’s campus while he was supposed to be on leave. The latter incident in particularly damning as the complaint alleges Zhang took circuit boards and a server used by the autonomous driving program.
When confronted with the theft, Zhang reportedly told Apple he took the equipment because he wanted to transfer to a new position at the company and thought the it would prove useful. That doesn’t make any sense and it likely raised more red flags.
The FBI eventually got involved and obtained a search warrant for Zhang’s house. It remains unclear what was discovered during the search on June 27th but, shortly thereafter, the FBI discovered Zhang purchased a round-trip ticket to China. They then arrested him at the security check point at the airport.
In a statement to the news organization, Apple said it takes “confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously.” The company went on to say it is cooperating with the investigation and will “do everything possible to make sure this individual, and any other individuals involved, are held accountable for their actions.”
A lot of details remain unclear, but this isn’t the first legal battle to involve autonomous vehicles and reports of stolen information. The most famous incident involved Uber and Waymo. That case centered on Anthony Levandowski who reportedly downloaded more than 14,000 files from Google, left the company, and founded an autonomous trucking firm which was eventually bought by Uber. The case was settled earlier this year when Waymo agreed to accept a $245 million stake in Uber in exchange for ending their lawsuit.
Xiaopeng G3 pictured