A former Apple employee has been charged with stealing trade secrets, with a criminal complaint filed in federal court accusing him of downloading Project Titan blueprints and then trying to flee to China.
Project Titan, Apple's self-driving car project, has gone through massive changes over the years. It was last reported as having been relegated to driverless Volkswagen shuttles for the company's employees, but that does not mean that Apple will not protect its intellectual property.
Former Apple Employee Arrested For Stealing Self-Driving Car Trade Secrets
Ex-Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang, who allegedly stole Project Titan trade secrets for a Chinese self-driving car startup, was arrested after passing through the security checkpoint at the San Jose International Airport. Zhang was supposed to board a flight headed to China and start working for Xiaopeng Motors.
Zhang was a hardware engineer for the autonomous vehicle team of Apple, so he had access to confidential databases. After taking a paternity leave, he told Apple in April that he was moving to China to work at Xiaopeng Motors. Afterwards, his network activity and visits to the office increased, making Apple suspicious of Zhang.
While on campus, Zhang allegedly took circuit boards and a computer server from a Project Titan hardware lab. Zhang said that he took the hardware because it may be useful to him, as he was looking to transfer to another position within Apple. Zhang also allegedly transferred data into a personal laptop, including a 25-page secret blueprint of a self-driving vehicle circuit board. Investigators described the file as the one that "serves as the basis for the instant criminal charge."
"We're working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions," said Apple in a statement.
FBI agents questioned the former Apple employee and served a search warrant at his home on June 27. Officials then learned that he bought tickets to fly to China on July 7, which is when he was arrested at the airport.
Employees Involved in Apple Self-Driving Car Project
Buried in the criminal complaint against Zhang, meanwhile, is an interesting piece of information on how many Apple employees are involved in Project Titan.
According to the document, about 5,000 of the 135,000 employees of Apple are "disclosed on the project," a number that is equivalent to 3.7 percent of all Apple workers. Of these employees, 2,700 of them are described as "core employees" on the project.
Apple has had a long history of keeping silent about Project Titan, but from these numbers, it appears that a significant portion of the company is involved with it.