A former Apple engineer was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to stealing trade secrets.
Apple accused him of planning to sell trade secrets from when he worked on a car project from 2015 to 2018.
The ex-employee faces 120 days of imprisonment and 3 years of supervised release.
Former Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang has been sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to all charges of stealing trade secrets in August 2022.
Zhang formerly worked on Apple's secretive self-driving car efforts, called "Project Titan." He served as an engineer on the compute team, which created circuit boards for auto sensors.
Court documents show that Zhang first sparked concerns when he left his job as an Apple engineer and joined Chinese auto company, Guangzhou Xiaopeng Motors Technology, also known as XPeng in 2018. According to a statement from the US Attorney's Office, his network activity in the three days prior to his leave surpassed any of his activity over the past two years.
Apple found the behavior suspicious and filed an investigation, alleging that Zhang had downloaded various classified files that he was planning to sell to Chinese auto companies. Some of the confidential items included a hard drive, semiconductor manuals, and 25 pages of documents detailing engineering schematics of a circuit board, according to court documents.
Zhang first pleaded not guilty but entered a confidential plea deal with the US government and pleaded guilty to all charges in August 2022, according to court filings. The charge could have led to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Apple's "Project Titan" autonomous car effort is years in the making and has faced numerous delays and pivots. An Apple car was initially rumored to come out in 2021, with speculation surrounding secret labs in Berlin and California.
When asked about the project in a New York Times podcast in 2021, Apple CEO Tim Cook didn't confirm a car was in the works, but said that the company pursues many ideas that never "see the light of day."
More recently the tech giant reportedly downgraded the vehicle currently in the works from a more ambitious design to one with Level 2+ autonomy, similar to a standard Tesla, meaning a driver wouldn't be able to take their hands off the wheel for extended periods of time. Apple also delayed the target launch to 2028, according to the report.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
Zhang now faces 120 days in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $146,984. His prison sentence will begin on June 24, 2024, according to the Northern District of California court order.
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