Ex-Apple employee is charged with stealing driverless car secrets

A former Apple employee has been charged with stealing driverless car secrets from the company with the intent of bringing them to his new employer.

Xiaolang Zhang was stopped at San Jose International airport by federal agents. He reportedly had bought a “last second” ticket heading to China.

Zhang is said to have stolen sensitive documents regarding Apple’s work on driverless cars while he was on paternity leave. Today, he was charged with trade secrets theft in the U.S. District Court for Northern California.

The company Zhang was heading to was XMotors, a company that says it's building "intelligently connected and all-electric cars for the young generation."

XMotors has offices in Beijing and Guangzhou, China, as well as Mountain View, California. On its website, it lists Alibaba, Foxconn, and IDG Capital as investors.

Apple does not speak about its work on driverless cars publicly and the project is kept to a high degree of secrecy.

When investigators from Apple searched Zhang’s two company-issued phones and laptop, they discovered that he had been aggressively downloading confidential files – as well as visiting Apple's labs and removing items during his paternity leave.

Last year, Infoholic Research released their report ‘Autonomous Vehicle Market: Global Drivers, Restraints, Opportunities, Trends, and Forecasts to 2023’ in which they predict the driverless vehicle market will reach $126.8 billion by 2027.

Naturally, many companies are looking for their slice of the market and there have been some questionable tactics used in the pursuit of it.

Uber/Waymo Lawsuit

Back in February, Uber and Google’s driverless car spinoff Waymo settled a lawsuit after Uber acquired a startup called Otto with former employees of Google.

Otto was started by Anthony Levandowski, a longtime Google engineer who was credited as one of the masterminds behind the company’s groundbreaking self-driving car program.

Before he left Google, Levandowski allegedly downloaded 14,000 secret documents from a company server.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber CEO, said in a statement to Google employees:

“The prospect that a couple of Waymo employees may have inappropriately solicited others to join Otto, and that they may have potentially left with Google files in their possession, in retrospect, raised some hard questions.

To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our Lidar and software represents just our good work.”

Waymo received a financial settlement which includes 0.34% of Uber’s equity based on a $72 billion valuation, putting the reward at about $245 million.

What are your thoughts about the driverless car lawsuits? Let us know in the comments.

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