Apple brings criminal charges against ex-member of autonomous-vehicle team

Joanna Estrada
July 12, 2018

Elon Musk and Tesla were at their peak popularity at the time and such news sold well. He also told Apple investigators he plans to move his family to Guangzhou, China, "in the near future", the complaint said.

Now, matters related to the Apple Car have taken another interesting turn. Prosecutors accused him of stealing valuable intellectual property before resigning from his position at Google's self-driving vehicle division.

The charges filed in the US federal court allege that an employee named Xiaolang Zhang stole secrets of Apple's ambitious autonomous vehicle project.

But Apple may have large numbers of employees working on the project because the process of making a computer "see" the world around it for a self-driving vehicle can be applied to other products, said Sertac Karaman, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founder of a self-driving shuttle startup called Optimus Ride.

According to a court filing, Zhang worked on Apple's self-driving auto initiative, called "Project Titan", as a member of the Compute Team. Out of those, roughly 2,700 workers have access to one or more Apple databases containing information about the project, according to the complaint.

Zhang told the Federal Bureau of Investigation at that time he was working at XMotors offices in Silicon Valley, according to the complaint. April this year, he took a paternity leave but informed Apple he would be going back home to China to take care of his sick mother. Zhang also said he planned to work for XMotors, a Chinese autonomous and electric vehicle startup, which has offices in Silicon Valley.

Mr Zhang is accused of downloading a 25-page "blueprint" for a self-driving auto circuit board to his personal computer.

Apple began to grow increasingly suspicious of his network activity.

According to Reuters, Xiaolang Zhang was working for Apple and stole an assortment of information from the company. It was later revealed that at least 60% of all the downloaded data was questionable. During this period, Zhang took circuit boards and a Linux server from the self-driving vehicle 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.

The fact that Apple provided this information to authorities as part of the complaint indicates that further technological details could come to light in court if the case goes ahead, marking a change in attitude for the tech giant which previously fought fiercely to keep details of its self-driving cars under wraps. If those charges lead to a ruling against Zhang, he could face up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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