Former Apple Engineer Xiaolang Zhang Caught Fleeing Country After Stealing Secrets

Ramish Zafar

Remember the Apple Car? Exactly two years back, the press started to get all hyped up on news that Apple might be developing autonomous vehicles. Elon Musk and Tesla were at their peak popularity at the time and such news sold well. In fact, a wild rumor in 2015 also claimed that Apple would have the vehicle in production by 2020; putting a lot more faith in Cupertino's prowess than we'd like to award it.

Now, matters related to the Apple Car have taken another interesting turn.  A former Apple employee is charged for stealing company secrets through his gadgets. Take a look below for more details.

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Former Apple Employee Arrested On San Jose Airport Seemingly Trying To Flee The Country After Downloading Confidential Files On His iPhone And MacBook

Xiaolang Zhang, a former Apple engineer was arrested by federal agents on Saturday at the Mineta San Jose International Airport. The employee was allegedly trying to flee the country after having obtained confidential knowledge related to Apple's self-driving car project also dubbed as the Apple Car.

Zhang joined Apple in 2015, to work on the autonomous vehicle project as a hardware engineer. Due to Apple's strict and complicated internal secrecy, he was one of the 2700 employees who had access to highly confidential information about the project. Apple had 5000 employees working on the project at the time.

In April, Zhang took paternity leave from Apple and on return informed his supervisor that he would return to China to take care of his ailing mother. In China, he would work for Xiaopeng Motors, a Chinese company with offices in Silicon Valley that also focuses on driverless vehicles.

Official Complaint Against Former Apple Employee Suggests That Company Is Working On 'Sensor Fusion' For The Apple Car; Engineer Zhang  Admits To Stealing Confidential Information From The Company

Zhang's role as a hardware engineer at Apple required him to test circuit boards for analyzing sensor data. After he informed his supervisor of the decision to leave Apple, the latter proceeded to call Apple's security officials. When they searched the engineer's company-issued iPhones and a notebook, they discovered searches in confidential databases, with download activity increasing massively in the past two months.

Zhang also admitted to Air Dropping information from his iPhones to his wife's laptop. A search of the latter revealed the presence of a large chunk of confidential data on the device. Additionally, security footage confirmed that he was on company premises on April 28th, which falls into the period of his paternity leave. During this period, Zhang took circuit boards and a Linux server from the self-driving car hardware labs.

Finally, technical details form the complaint document suggest that Apple is working on 'Sensor Fusion', a technology that allows a system to create accurate location mapping and situational awareness via combining data from different sensors. Zhang's arraignment is set for July 27th. While Apple's complaint does not directly state that the circuit boards in question are for autonomous vehicles, all the variables do point towards this conclusion. Zhang faces 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

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